This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in it's entirety here.
If you’ve been paying any attention to spring practice reports coming out of Fayetteville over the last month, it’s clear that a very simple theme has emerged: toughness.
As in, they need some. Or at least more. A lot more.
A Google search for "bielema toughness arkansas" nets 358,000 results.
In the most obvious, Xs and Os context, this is because Bielema is changing the team’s offensive philosophy from the pass-happy Petrino style to the more traditional power offense he’s always been associated with. It’s no secret that Arkansas’ rushing attack attempts had been inconsistent at best over the last five years, other than Knile Davis’ emergence in the latter half of 2010.
But beyond the necessity of physical toughness, the Razorbacks also need to develop it mentally.
It’s easily forgotten that the Razorbacks were a pretty decent first-quarter team in 2012. But they’d respond to the slightest adversity about as well as a cat sprayed with water. How many times did we see the team begin to fold when a penalty would wipe out a huge play or when losses began piling up? That will have to change if Arkansas has a successful 2013 season, even if success simply means earning a bowl bid.
Once spring practice ends around the country in the coming weeks, all the national preview magazines and television specials will begin to come out, and one thing you can expect to see about Arkansas in nearly each one of them is a reference to the Razorbacks’ incredibly difficult schedule. Specifically, it refers to the five-week stretch that begins with a trip to Rutgers, includes a game in The Swamp, ends in Tuscaloosa, and features a couple of home games against the likes of Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney.
Regardless of what Arkansas’ record ends up being during those five games, how successful the team ends up being will likely be determined by the Hogs’ performance in November against the Mississippi schools and Auburn. It’s imperative that if the Razorbacks struggle through that midseason gauntlet, they are able to regroup mentally for the closing stretch of the season.
That’s a sort of toughness that’s just as important as physicality.
Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a contributor to CollegeFootballNews.com and SportingLifeArkansas.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @doc_harper.