We all know it doesn't take much to set off a lot of Arkansas fans.
Unfortunately, this is the time of year when we all hope to see our dreams of a great season validated with promising write-ups in preseason previews and magazines. This year, there's not a lot of optimism out there for the Hogs.
This isn't anything shocking to those of us who've been saying at this point bowl eligibility would be a successful season, but it's fair to question if the previews are being fair in their analysis. For instance, USA Today ranked Arkansas #83, lower than all 11 of the Hogs' FBS-level opponents (Southern Miss, who went 0-12 last year, is ranked #82). That seems
like ridiculous bullshit excessive to me, but feel free to judge for yourself.
What do you think they should be saying about Arkansas?
This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. Read the whole thing (with video and embedded tweet illustrations!) here.
Every fan makes a habit of soaking up every piece of football preview they can possibly get their hands on. (Plug: Order your free Sporting Life Arkansas Football Preview today!) These are at their best when they’re dramatic, and there was no shortage of that this week with the USA Today preview ridiculously announcing the Razorbacks as the 83rd ranked team in the country, and the anonymous (so mysterious!) coach in Athlon describing how terrible Arkansas would be this year.
It’s enough to make you think the famous video of reactions to Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding was actually a video of Razorback fans reacting to the 2013 team.
Of course previews are going to be hard on the Razorbacks. It won’t end with those two. Arkansas is a team filled with question marks at nearly every position. The Razorbacks are bringing back a solid pair of defensive ends, a reliable kicker, a bruising fullback, and a great center. Virtually everything else is somewhat of a mystery. Combine that with coming off a disaster season and a difficult schedule, and outsiders aren’t going to give you credit for much. And if you’re bringing in a new, unproven quarterback, that’s a triple whammy.
If that seems like a pretty simplistic way of previewing the Razorbacks, it is.
It might be easy to brush off standard coach lines during official appearances at press conferences or interviews, but look at the excitement in his seemingly spontaneous words in the recent Grantland.com article documenting his move to Fayetteville. This might seem silly, but the profanity makes his enthusiasm seem genuine because we haven’t seem him use that sort of language in any sort of official capacity. It makes you wonder if he really thinks the Hogs can be competitive, if October might not be as miserable as a quick look at the schedule would suggest.
And if that’s possible, what are the previews missing? Anyone who ever questioned the importance of leadership on a team had their answer last year, and Bielema’s infusion of that this season will be an intangible that’s difficult to measure in the type of preview that only looks at last season’s record and returning roster. It’s hard to imagine this year’s Razorbacks won’t be an improvement, even if it doesn’t show that much in the win column.
Bielema made a point in his initial press conference to emphasize preventing the team beating itself by avoiding penalties and unforced turnovers. Last year’s Hogs were remarkably gifted at getting flagged for a penalty or turning the ball over at the worst possible times. I don’t expect that to continue on to this season. In the spring game, Brandon Allen threw no interceptions, there were no fumbles by anybody, and only two penalties were called the entire day.
All that being said, yes, we still expect the Razorbacks to have some struggles against a difficult schedule. But that doesn't mean they'll be a completely terrible team. It's a team that should be an improvement and hopefully can be competitive in most of their games, and seeing fight in the team would be an improvement on last year.
Email Doc at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @doc_harper