Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Hogs picked low in early forecasts
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches the Razorbacks warm up as they prepare for the start of the Red-White Scrimmage at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema will not chalk up the 2013 football season as a rebuilding campaign.
College football analysts have a different opinion.
Preseason magazines or media outlets who have predicted the SEC standings have projected Arkansas with no higher than a fifth place finish in the brutal SEC West.
The Razorbacks, the preseason No. 10 team in The Associated Press Top 25 poll last year, collapsed to a 4-8 record, tying for the most losses in school history, under interim Coach John L. Smith to fall behind the furious pace in the nation’s toughest division, which has produced the past four BCs national champions and five of the past six.
Arkansas lost key talent to the NFL, including quarterback Tyler Wilson, tailbacks Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson, receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg. It also underwent an overhaul to Bielema’s more ground-oriented offense in the spring.
The talent drain, coaching transition and a rigorous schedule have analysts dubious about the Hogs’ prospects this fall.
Athlon Sports picked Arkansas to finish last in the SEC West with a 5-7 record that included a 1-7 conference mark.
“Bielema has a lot of work ahead of him … as the Razorbacks will be fighting to avoid the SEC West cellar,”Athlon wrote. “The offense has major question marks, starting at quarterback with Brandon Allen. There’s also a lack of proven play makers at running back and wide receiver. The defense returns seven healthy starters, but this unit ranked 12th in the SEC in both points and yards allowed last season. The Razorbacks will be rebuilding in 2013.”
Bielema said he understands how analysts see the Razorbacks that way.
“We lost a lot of really good players, but I was emphatic, especially when I knew I had 20 seniors in that room to begin with in December, that I didn’t want it to be a rebuilding,” Bielema said earlier this summer.
Phil Steele’s College Football Preview had the most rosy outlook for the Hogs. Steele projected a fifth-place showing for Arkansas in the West, ahead of Auburn and Mississippi State.
“There is a clear gap between the top 4 in the West and the bottom 3 and Arkansas gets this #5 spot as they host both Auburn and Mississippi State,” Steele wrote.
Steele also ranked Arkansas No. 10 on his list of most improved teams for 2013, trailing only No. 6 Tennessee among SEC teams.
USA Today ranked the Razorbacks No. 83 in its countdown of all 125 FBS teams, below teams like Southern Miss, which went 0-12 last year and faces the Hogs on Sept. 14, Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky and Indiana, and ahead of only No. 101 Kentucky in the SEC.
Lindy’s Sports projected Arkansas to finish sixth in the West, ahead of Auburn, which finished 0-8 in the SEC last year under Gene Chizik before bringing Gus Malzahn back to head the program. The magazine ranked Arkansas No. 52 nationally.
“Our call is: Hogs should rebound from 4-8 season, but won’t match Bobby Petrino’s success right now,” Lindy’s wrote.
Arkansas’ schedule, which includes games at Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, as well as Rutgers, is frequently cited as a reason why the Hogs might be better in 2013 but perhaps not able to show it with their record.
Five of the Hogs’ opponents - No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 8 LSU, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 12 Florida - are in the top 12 of Lindy’s preseason rankings.
“Arkansas should start strong before hitting up against the most ridiculous stretch one could possibly imagine: Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina, at Alabama,” wrote USA Today earlier this summer. “Are you kidding me? Yes, Arkansas draws two teams from the SEC East and they’re the Gators and Gamecocks.”
More projections, including SEC media picks, will be released next week when the SEC concludes its annual media days in Hoover, Ala.
Sports, Pages 15 on 07/11/2013