Arkansas 2013 season preview

If the best way to wash out the taste of a 4-8 season is a fresh start, the Razorbacks certainly are turning the page in 2013. Spread offenses have taken hold at more SEC school, but new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema puts a dent in that trend, replacing a spread with the more traditional, power-running attack he succeeded with at Wisconsin. That will take some personnel revamping.

The offensive skill talent Arkansas has pumped into the NFL in recent years is remarkable: Three running backs in the same draft (2008), three receivers in a single draft (2012), and its last two starting quarterbacks. That output continued last April when all four drafted Razorbacks were offensive skill players. Looking ahead, the well appears to be drying up quickly. Eight of 12 returning starters play defense, a unit that yielded 58 points to Texas A&M, 52 to Alabama, 45 to Mississippi State and 38 to South Carolina.

Check out the top players from Arkansas.

Top senior prospects

DL Byran Jones: Among the more productive interior defensive linemen in the league, Jones made 52 stops last season with five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 310-pounder has had a healthy career with 35 games played over three seasons, including five starts as a freshman in 2010 that helped him earn Freshman All-SEC honors. Jones is also among the strongest players on the team.

DE Chris Smith: With a team-leading 13 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries, Smith is clearly the Razorbacks' top returning playmaker up front. And as the SEC West's leading returning sack man, he could be the entire division's bell-cow pass rusher as well. He's been injury-free, having started all 12 games last season and has played in 25 in a row going back to 2011.

C Travis Swanson: The best Razorbacks center since Jonathan Luigs (2009 fourth-rounder to the Bengals), Swanson is Arkansas' top preseason All-SEC candidate. He's got plenty of size (6-5, 315), durability (38 starts) and is a real threat for the 2013 Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center.

DT Robert Thomas: A strong interior presence who can squat 600 pounds, Thomas gives the Razorbacks the size they will need (6-3, 318). To really get on the NFL radar, however, Thomas will need increased production. He made 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.

Top underclassmen

OL Brey Cook: At 6-7, 320, Cook's long frame landed him at tackle at Arkansas, where he made six starts last season. But he's now been moved to guard, where the junior's aggressiveness and run-blocking skills might better serve him.

DE Trey Flowers: Flowers lacks size (6-4, 256), but was close behind Chris Smith as Arkansas' top playmaker on defense, tying for the team lead with 13 tackles for loss and delivering six sacks. His athleticism makes him a tough assignment for any offensive tackle. The junior has played in every game of his two-year career and delivered in some of Arkansas' toughest contests last season, including a 10-tackle showing against LSU, and six (with two TFLs) against South Carolina.

CB Tevin Mitchel: The true junior has made 15 starts over the last two seasons, and contributed 34 tackles a year ago with one interception. At 181 pounds, he'll eventually need to add more size. Not considered a viable early entry candidate for the 2014 NFL Draft, but is one to watch for the 2015 draft.

Check out the top 10 all-time players from Arkansas.

Three must-see games of 2013

Sept. 28 vs. Texas A&M: After being thoroughly embarrassed defensively last season by the Aggies, Arkansas will look forward to a chance at redemption at home. If Bielema's power-rushing attack is effective, the Texas A&M offense won't get nearly as many possessions as it did a year ago.

Nov. 9 at Ole Miss: Arkansas won't have the talent to compete for a division title this season, but a road trip to Ole Miss figures to be a competitive game that can establish the pecking order for which middling SEC West team is best equipped for the future.

Nov. 29 at LSU: The Razorbacks have been known to give LSU trouble even in years when the Tigers are expected to win handily. An upset here would be ideal momentum for Bielema's second-year recruiting efforts.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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