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FAYETTEVILLE — It doesn’t take much numbers-crunching to see the improvements Arkansas made under first-year coach Sam Pittman in 2020.
Not only did the Razorbacks snap their long SEC losing streak, but they won three conference games, had another three losses decided by a total of seven points and improved from last season in nearly every statistical category.
In fact, Arkansas actually outscored its six opponents that finished outside of the final AP poll by a combined score of 178-155. It had a minus-12.4 average margin in its five games against SEC teams that finished unranked last season.
The gap between the Razorbacks and the SEC’s elite is still quite large, but did close some in 2020. After losing to three teams in the final top 15 by an average of 39.3 points last season, their four such losses this year were by an average of 28.8 points.
What resulted from putting a better product on the field was Arkansas making a jump in computer metics and in more subjective rankings compiled by those who watch the sport.
ESPN’s final Football Power Index (FPI) has the Razorbacks at No. 56 out of 127 FBS teams that played this fall. That is a dramatic rise from 2019, when they ended the season at No. 91.
That 35-spot jump in Pittman’s first season was actually the second-largest by a Power Five program with a first-year coach in 2020, behind only Rutgers, which improved 46 spots from No. 118 to No. 72 under Greg Schiano.
Of the other 10 Power Five schools that replaced their head coach last offseason, just Boston College (up 15 spots to No. 54), Colorado (up 11 spots to No. 59) and Ole Miss (up 11 spots to No. 35) saw their FPI ranking improve this year.
While Pittman and Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss improved their standing in the FPI, Mississippi State dropped 13 spots to No. 52 under Mike Leach and Missouri fell 17 spots to No. 49 under Eliah Drinkwitz.
The eye test also reflected the Razorbacks’ and Rebels’ success, as they had nearly identical jumps in The Athletic 127, Chris Vannini’s ranking of every FBS team.
Ole Miss moved up 42 spots from last year’s final ranking to No. 43, while Arkansas moved up 41 spots to No. 70. Colorado (up 50 spots to No. 40) and Rutgers (up 46 spots to No. 72) had larger jumps, but it was UTSA – led by former Arkansas assistant Jeff Traylor – that made the biggest move with a new coach. The Roadrunners went from No. 119 in 2019 to No. 61 in 2020, an improvement of 58 places.
Vannini’s rankings – which tend to be more Group of Five-friendly – were also kinder to Leach and Drinkwitz from a comparison standpoint. Mississippi State (No. 56) and Missouri (No. 57) are ranked lower than in the FPI, but they fell only three spots and actually rose 13 spots, respectively, compared to their 2019 finish.
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