The best thing about college football is watching the emergence of new players. And with the new transfer portal acting as an amateur-level free agency, we’ll also see new faces in new places.
No. 23 Arkansas and no. 22 Cincinnati offer new players making their first start in college football and transfers hoping to make noise in their new home.
The Hogs are looking to begin the season on a positive with the toughest schedule in college football. For a betting fan, the odds are in their favor, with a 59% chance of winning, along with the historical dominance the SEC has on non-conference opponents in opening games.
But with high expectations come unwarranted pressure, and the question is can the top players for the Hogs handle it?
The Bearcats, on the other hand, are playing with church money. Luke Fickell is bringing a young team into Fayetteville, but Cincy has shown over the last couple of years that they are a good football program.
Arkansas QB, KJ Jefferson
Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) runs for a first down against the Texas A&M Aggies during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jefferson was recently featured on the ESPN Heisman Watch show. We’ve spoken about him all summer, and his name appears in most quarterback conversations. At this point, everybody is ready to see what the Mississippi native will do.
Cincinnati QB, Ben Bryant
Fickell has decided not to inform the media on who will be the starting quarterback will be this Saturday, but the team knows, and it’s likely going to be Bryant. Bryant returns to the Bearcats after spending a season at Eastern Michigan.
Arkansas WR, Jadon Haselwood
Oklahoma’s Jadon Haselwood (11) before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
Haselwood has the chance to be one of the best wideouts in the SEC and even the country. A big opening day for the transfer can set the tone for the rest of the season, and it will be interesting to see how many times Jefferson aims his way.
Cincinnati WR, Tre Tucker
Tucker was third on the team in receiving but with the top two pass catchers no longer a part of the program, it’s Tucker’s time to shine as the leading receiver.
Arkansas TE, Trey Knox
Dec 5, 2020; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver Trey Knox (7) reacts after a play against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Knox will make his debut at the tight end position after entering Fayetteville as a wide receiver. The transition adds a new dynamic to the Hogs’ passing offense and gives Jefferson an athletic, big, strong target in the middle of the field.
Cincinnati RB, Ryan Montgomery
Montgomery is expected to be the starting running back and has some large shoes to fill. Jerome Ford led the team with 19 touchdowns and offered a nice insurance plan for the Bearcats offense. Montgomery only has 459 yards and five touchdowns in his career at Cincy, so let’s see how he’ll handle carrying most of the loads.
Arkansas Safety, Jalen Catalon
Acting Arkansas head coach Barry Odom, right, talks to defensive back Jalen Catalon (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
This is a money season for Catalon, who enters the 2022 season as one of the best defensive backs in college football. Each game is important for the All-American safety as he builds his draft stock.
Cincinnati CB, Arquon Bush
Sep 11, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Arquon Bush (9) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against Murray State Racers wide receiver Jacob Bell (17) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports
Bush was on slot duty last season but with Sauce Gardner’s departure and Cody Bryant’s departure. Bush was successful in the role, but now he will be the Bearcats’ top cornerback. Under Fickell, Cincy’s defensive backs are technicians in route recognition and assisting in the run game.
Arkansas LB, Drew Sanders
Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders (20) breaks up a pass intended for Mercer tight end Andrew May (82) Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]
Alabama Vs Mercer
Sanders is going to be the man in the middle for the Razorbacks. Sanders is coming from Alabama, which naturally puts an expectation on him. He played in 12 games at Bama as a sophomore but only three starts. Now as a starter and one of the best players on the defense, many eyes will be watching MLB1.
Cincinnati DL, Jwon Briggs
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
Briggs is one of eight players that was included on the Senior Bowl watch list. He was named to the ESPN midseason All-American freshman team after a successful campaign at Virginia. The junior lineman transferred from Virginia in 2020.
Arkansas Defensive Line
Sep 25, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive lineman Eric Thomas Jr. (37) and defensive lineman John Ridgeway (99) and linebacker Grant Morgan (31) hold up the Southwest Classic trophy as they celebrate the win over the Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not one player on the defensive line that we should focus. Instead, let’s watch them as a unit. The defensive line is the biggest question mark of the season for the Hogs. This is a perfect opportunity for the line to build momentum for the season going against an offense that has lost all of it’s statistical leaders from last season.
Cincinnati Safety, Ja'Von Hicks
Oct 31, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats safety Ja’Von Hicks (3) wears a shirt under his jersey with the phrase I Can’t Breathe during the game against the Memphis Tigers in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Hicks was an All-AAC honorable mention safety in 2019 when he snagged five interceptions. As a graduate student, this is the last chance for Hicks to elevate his draft stock.