Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Season of unknowns takes shape
Today there is no virus, at least not in this space.
This is what probably would have been written today if Corona was just a beer.
SEC football media days in Atlanta would have survived, although too much was paid for lodging and the drive seems to get longer every year.
The city itself rolled out the red carpet, providing entertainment, food and beverages on two occasions.
Media from all over the country was there and the University of Arkansas was voted to finish a solid seventh — in the West Division.
After going 2-10 each of the last two seasons, nothing better would have been expected.
Alabama would have been chosen to win the West and Georgia the East, although Florida garnered strong support with 12 starters back.
The Crimson Tide would also have been chosen to win the SEC title and get back to the College Football Playoff, sometimes called the Bama Bracket.
The defending national champion LSU Tigers would have finished third behind Texas A&M.
The Tigers lost eight offensive starters including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow. The difference in finishing second or third could have come down to the season-finale with Texas A&M.
While Ed Orgeron is 34-7 since losing the interim from his title, this is the season Jimbo Fisher needs to earn his $7.5 million.
He’s 17-9 as an Aggie, which is not what the wealthy alumni expected when he was given a 10-year $75 million guaranteed contract.
They were thinking more of challenging Alabama than Auburn.
The Aggies do return 17 starters and should still remember the spanking by LSU, 50-7, to close the regular season last year.
Most likely Auburn would have been picked fourth and that might be the final straw for the most fickle fans in the country. The Gus Bus might be headed to a new parking spot, but Gus Malzahn would be owed more than $20 million in buyout money.
No one can spend that much money at Waffle House unless you buy a couple.
Ole Miss would have received a lot of attention, mostly because of new head coach Lane Kiffin, and that would get the Rebels voted in at No. 5.
Kiffin inherits 13 returning starters and brings with him a California-sized ego and confidence.
Mike Leach would have been the most quoted coach at the meetings, and some of it probably had nothing to do with football.
Mississippi State would have been sixth in the poll.
That leaves the hometown hero Razorbacks, who have a new head coach, and by new we mean ever on this level and with 14 starters back, although not all of them are expected to be a starter again.
Sam Pittman has already declared Florida transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks as the guy to beat for that job.
Last year’s team had five different starting quarterbacks and that’s not a good thing when it comes to a consistent offense.
The O-line looks to be improved with the return of Noah Gatlin, who missed last season with an injury. Gatlin started four games as a true freshman before redshirting.
Luke Jones sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame and should push for a starting job.
The Hogs are solid at running back with Rakeem Boyd returning and at receiver with Treylon Burks, Trey Knox and Mike Woods all back, plus there is more depth than last season.
If there is a season, the Razorbacks will win more than two games which may not be enough to get out of the basement, but they will be better.
As for now, Pittman is the only undefeated coach in the SEC.
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