CFN Preview 2013 - Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas DE Chris Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Arkansas Razorbacks
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It all makes sense in theory.
Head coach: Bret Bielema
8th year: 68-24
Returning Lettermen: 51
Off. 26, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Arkansas Players
1. DE Chris Smith, Sr.
2. DE Trey Flowers, Jr.
3. DT Byran Jones, Sr.
4. RB Alex Collins, Fr.
5. C Travis Swanson, Sr.
6. OT David Hurd, Sr.
7. DT Robert Thomas, Sr.
8. S Eric Bennett, Sr.
9. OG Brey Cook, Jr.
10. S Rohan Gaines, Soph.
9/14 Southern Miss
9/21 at Rutgers
9/28 Texas A&M
10/5 at Florida
10/12 South Carolina
10/19 at Alabama
10/26 OPEN DATE
11/9 at Ole Miss
11/16 OPEN DATE
11/23 Mississippi State
11/30 at LSU
You're Arkansas and you're trying to get past the Bobby Petrino embarrassment and the John L. Smith fiasco, and you need a head coach. Knowing you're Arkansas, and you can't beat Alabama, LSU and other SEC teams in a recruiting arms race, you need to find a head coach who can win big things without needing to bring in a slew of four and five-star super-recruits. There's Boise State's Chris Petersen, but he might be angling for something a little bigger. There's TCU's Gary Patterson, but he seems to be firmly entrenched in Forth Worth and is bent on making the Horned Frogs into a Big 12 player. And then there's Bret Bielema, a very young, very talented, very brash star at Wisconsin, who was known for recruiting "to a type" and cranking out winner after winner.
More than just the ability to take what Barry Alvarez started and run with it, Bielema grew a big-time attitude, for good and bad.
His Badgers were the big, bad bully on the block with massive offensive linemen paving the way for record-setting running backs and giving ultra-efficient quarterbacks ten days to throw. Meanwhile, his teams almost never beat themselves, didn't commit dumb penalties, fixed the glitches on special teams without a problem, and won, won, won.
But it might have been a bit of a mirage.
Yes, possibly bringing a physical attitude and style to Fayetteville could make things interesting against the big boys, but the SEC West isn't the Big Ten Leaders. Things are changing, but Wisconsin spent the last several years fattening up on Cream Puff U. and Cupcake Tech on the non-conference slate, and then it was able to rise up for the one or two really, really big games a year. The Badgers were able to come up with the huge victory over an Ohio State here and a Nebraska there, and all credit is due for back-to-back Big Ten championship game victories, but it's one thing to play Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois around the date with Michigan State, and it's another to play Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in a row – with LSU still looming – like Arkansas has to do this year.
And then there's the other little problem that Alvarez liked to keep pointing out time and again. It's one thing to go to three straight Rose Bowls, but you also have to win them. Alvarez did his best taking over last year in the loss to Stanford, and Bielema's 2011 team wasn't as good as Oregon, but the TCU loss in the 2011 Rose Bowl was inexcusable and the 1-4 record in bowl games before last season was a problem.
Recruiting to a type only gets you so far.
Can Bielema do what he couldn't do at Wisconsin and take Arkansas to a whole other level? Yeah, going to Rose Bowls was fun, but the Badgers hit a hard ceiling. Being 8-4 or even 10-2 in the SEC West is great, but that's probably not going to get it done for an Arkansas program that wants its turn on the SEC Championship Wheel.
For now, Bielema will be the bull in the china shop. He won't suck up to Nick Saban or cower because Les Miles is on the other side of the field. He's going to make Arkansas nasty and tough in a big hurry, but the bluster only works if it's backed up by wins.
What to watch for on offense: How fast can the ground game be up to Wisconsin snuff? There's lip-service being paid to the offense being balanced, and passing efficiency was a big deal for the Badgers, but Bielema is being brought in to provide an attitude that comes from beating people up with the ground game. Last year, even with Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis headlining a loaded backfield, the running game didn't go anywhere. Not only did it fail to score a rushing touchdown in six games, but it never hit the 200-yard mark and had to fight to get over 100 yards. The line is full of talent and there are good backs ready to take over, but it might take a little bit before the Hogs start flattening defensive fronts.
What to watch for on defense: Can the secondary stop anyone? There wasn't much of an excuse considering the pass rush was terrific and there was constant pressure on quarterbacks, but the pass defense was roasted early and offense giving up 200 yards or more against everyone but Kentucky. Rutgers bombed away for 397 yards and five scores, and it was followed up by allowing 498 yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M. Everyone fattened up on the Hog secondary, and now that the pass rush should be better, the production has to follow.
The team will be far better if … it starts to win the turnover margin. The Hogs had several problems on both sides of the ball and on special teams, but the difference between going at least 6-6 and bowling and 4-8 were the mistakes. The offense couldn't stop giving it away with 31 turnovers, starting out with three lost fumbles against Jacksonville State and closing out with two turnovers against LSU. The blowout win over Kentucky was the only game with fewer than two turnovers – not turning it over at all – while giving it up three times or more four times. Meanwhile, the defense came up with five takeaways against Auburn and a grand total of seven in the other 11 games.
The schedule: Will Bielema ever deal with a tough non-conference schedule? Going to Rutgers is going to be tough, but that comes after starting out the year against Louisiana, Samford and Southern Miss. Considering the Hogs get a horrendous scheduling break having to face Florida and South Carolina from the East, a soft early slate if forgivable.
Considering Rutgers could end up winning the Big East, it's saying something that the date in Piscataway could be the easiest in a fun five-game stretch. Arkansas comes home to kick off the SEC season with Texas A&M before going to Florida, coming back for South Carolina, and then enjoying a lovely trip to Alabama. The off week is a must to gear it back up again for a rough November starting out with Auburn and going to Ole Miss before getting another bye week to get ready for Mississippi State and the regular season finale at LSU.
Best offensive player: Freshman RB Alex Collins. No pressure, new guy. Center Travis Swanson might be the real top player for the Hog offense, and sophomore Jonathan Williams is a big back who'll get several chances to own the running game early on. But the focus is on Collins, the five-star super-recruit out of Florida who made headlines for the Signing Day drama from his mama. He signed, and he needs to be the type of back to work the entire offense around sooner than later with decent size and phenomenal speed.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Chris Smith. The hope was for the 6-3, 266-pounder to provide more of a pass rush last season, and he did more than anyone expected with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss to go along with 52 tackles. While he's not necessarily a speed rusher, he works his way behind the line and finds ways to make things happen. With running mate Trey Flowers on the other side, the Hogs should get to quarterbacks on a regular basis.
Key player to a successful season: Senior WR Demetrius Wilson. This also goes for Mekale McKay, Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton. There's talent at quarterback, and the running game will eventually rock, but the receiving corps has to step up and shine to balance out the offense. After losing the 90 catches and big-play ability from Cobi Hamilton, the Hogs need a No. 1, go-to target, and they need everyone to stretch the field a bit. Wilson, a big senior, has to be a leader who becomes a factor to take the pressure off the rest of the offense.
The season will be a success if … the swagger is back. Arkansas isn't going to win the SEC West, but it'll go to a mid-level bowl and pull up out of the John L. nosedive. That doesn't matter. What is important is whether or not Bielema can bring his attitude and bullying ability to a program that needs to reestablish its footprint. The Hogs might not beat the Alabamas and LSUs, but they have to grow into the team that intimidates and makes everyone fight and battle.
Key game: Sept. 28 vs. Texas A&M. This will be when Arkansas gets to show whether or not the physical power game works. The Hogs get four games of tune-up time before hosting Johnny Heisman and the high-octane Aggies, but he leads a finesse team. If things are starting to work like they're supposed to, Arkansas should be able to line up and blast away on A&M and make a huge statement in the SEC home opener. However, with a trip to Florida followed up by dates with South Carolina and Alabama, a loss could be devastating.
2012 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 113 – Arkansas 44
- Turnovers: Arkansas 31 – Opponents 12
- 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 11-of-19 (58%) – Arkansas 6-of-18 (33%)
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