By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will begin preparing for the 2022 season next weekend with expectations very high for this squad.

Sam Pittman is 12-11 at Arkansas as he’s set to begin his third season in charge of the Hogs. That includes a 9-4 mark in 2021 that saw the team bring four trophies to Fayetteville. The Razorbacks defeated Penn State 24-10 in the Outback Bowl.

This year’s squad was picked to finish third in the SEC West and arguments have been made for a second-place spot behind only Alabama. A lot will have to go right for the Hogs to be in the hunt for that type season, but the same can be said for all other schools in the same position such as Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and others.

Here’s some key battles to watch during preseason.

Wide Receiver — Gone are Treylon Burks, De’Vion Warren and Tyson Morris. They take 105 receptions for 1,684 yards and 13 touchdowns with them from the 2021 season. Arkansas returns Warren Thompson who grabbed 19 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns after transferring in from Florida State. Trey Knox caught 20 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown as he returns to the tight end position. Jadon Haselwood comes over from Oklahoma after catching a team-best 39 passes for 399 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns. The former five-star recruit out of Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove High School is hoping for a breakout season. Matt Landers comes over from Toledo where he had 20 receptions for 514 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games played. At 6-foot-5, Landers brings size and SEC experience, having previously played at Georgia, to the Hogs. Ketron Jackson could be in line for a good season. Isaiah Sategna is a true freshman who has the speed to cause issues for opposing defenses. Malik Hornsby will also play some wide receiver in addition to quarterback and can definitely stretch the field with his speed. Several others are in the mix for playing time.

Ty’Kieast Crawford — The junior transfer from Charlotte never quite got untracked last fall, but that changed this spring. Pittman has said the Hogs have to find a way to get the 6-foot-5, 347-pound Crawford on the field. The offensive line returns four starters from last season with only Myron Cunningham gone. But there’s a few possibilities to get Crawford in the lineup. He could challenge Dalton Wagner at right tackle. Wagner has been injured a lot, but when healthy one figures he will start. That could mean Crawford starting at left tackle in place of Cunningham. But Pittman liked what Luke Jones brought to the spot in spring drills. Brady Latham can play guard or tackle. It appears one way or another that Pittman will find a way to get Crawford on the field.

Impact of Transfers — The four defensive line transfers. Arkansas four new transfers on the defensive line and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact they make. At end the Hogs have Landon Jackson and Jordan Domineck while on the inside is Terry Hampton and Taylor Lewis. Arkansas got a lot of mileage out of the three defensive line transfers from last season. John Ridgeway played well enough to get drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. It appears Taurean Carter is out for the season though no official announcement on that has been made. Zach Williams, Jashaud Stewart, Eric Gregory, Isaiah Nichols, Cameron Ball, Eric Thomas and others will definitely be in mix for playing time.

Talented Pair — It may be hard to find a better pair of linebackers on one team than Bumper Pool and Drew Sanders. Pool opted to return for another season with the Hogs and Sanders is good enough he may be a one-and-done player after moving over from Alabama. The two offer the Hogs a one-two punch at linebacker that is outstanding. Chris Paul Jr, Jackson Woodard, Mani Powell and Jordan Crook will also see action at linebacker.