Allen: I brought up in the article how the game really focuses on the details of the running game. We assume that Arkansas' offense will likely feature the running game more prominently than in the past few seasons under Petrino. How do you feel about this team and the running game playing more of a role this upcoming season?
Robert: I think that while Bobby Petrino always said he wanted to run the ball, we rarely got to see that gameplan in action. One of the best teams we've seen at Arkansas, since they joined the SEC, featured Knile Davis toting the ball making our offense very potent. Even with that running game, CBP always went back to his passers and his receivers to get that important yardage.
I think in 2014 we can expect to see a run first offense. Which may scare some Razorback fans, giving them flashbacks of the perceived ineptitude of Houston Nutt's running game, but with a stud running back like Alex Collins coming in along with Jonathan Williams, who had some bright spots in 2013, we might be surprised. I DO think that Bielema will commit to the run, but if passing is what's really moving the chains we may see the team shift in that direction.
Allen: I can get on board with your thinking here. Fans got used to that pass happy - big chunks of land game. I know that I definitely did; it is very exciting. But we also saw that Arkansas could be one dimensional at times. Balance is the key this upcoming season. I feel like Arkansas will be really balanced if the running game gets clicking. The running game is inherently safe unless the team suffers from fumblitis. A more conservative, yet productive, style of play will help Arkansas stay away from beating themselves. With a young team and an inexperienced QB, the running game will help gain confidence for the whole team and of course open up other parts of the offense.
There is one criticism I'm hearing from some local and national talking heads. They say that if Bielema takes the “Bama or LSU” approach with a dynamic running-based offense founded on a strong offensive line with a solid defense, he is going to come up short trying to beat those teams head to head at “their own game” both on the field and in recruiting. Thoughts?
Robert: Well, what is beating Alabama at their own game? Recruiting well? Playing good defense? Protecting the ball on offense? Right now, no one can beat Bama at that game. Their one loss last season was to a supremely dynamic playmaker in Johnny Manziel, and you only get a player like that once a decade at best.
First off, most Arkansas fans would be happy to get back to third best in the SEC-W (SEC) (NCAA) by being able to beat every team except for Alabama and LSU. If you recruit a stud offensive line and have multiple 1,000 yard running backs, you're going to have a great season, and you can break through and beat those Alabama and LSU teams.
The other thing Bielema has going for him is a personality that far outclasses the Mad Hatter (Les Miles) and 61 year old Saban. So if he tries to beat them at their own game and manages to attract good assistants and recruit well, then all of the sudden, everyone says, "How do we beat Bama, LSU, and Arkansas at their own game?" Every Arkansas fan would love to have a team that got stops and turnovers on defense and consistently got first downs on offense.
Allen: You can also add brutal physicality to that style of play. It all really boils down to recruiting studs to fill the roster. Outside talking heads would say that historically Arkansas, with lack of in state talent, cannot compete on the same level as those two schools in recruiting – Bielema has to change the course of history. I do not necessarily buy that, but recruiting and getting top players will determine who wins on the field, within reason - it always will be.
The SEC-W is a true gauntlet. Not only are there LSU and Alabama to deal with, but there is Texas A&M who announced themselves to the SEC very candidly last season. On top of that, Ole Miss seems like they are poised as a challenger for that 3rd spot you speak of. Arkansas has the coach and resources to support him in place to contend; for what exactly I'm not sure. Fans will only be happy for so long 3rd in the SEC-W - but after the debacle of a season last year, 3rd in the West sounds pretty dang good.
In your comment from the first article you mention that Arkansas is in a 4 way tie for a tier that includes: Miss St., Mizzou, and Auburn. I was surprised you put Mizzou in there. What puts Arkansas and Mizzou on the same level? What will it take for Arkansas to rise to the top of this group?
Robert: Well, as most people usually divide up the SEC, it’s been one of two teams, usually Alabama and LSU lately in the first tier, then a couple of teams that could steal a big game or two and then represent the SEC (Auburn in 2010), and then pretty much everyone else. When I was commenting on your article, I was actually keying off of the ratings provided for each team in NCAA ’14 the game.
We're behind, Bama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, A&M, South Carolina, and Ole Miss right now, and we have 4 on the schedule in a row and then Ole Miss later in the season. Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama is a murderer's row and we will most likely go 0-4, just trying to “Keep It Real.” To rise to the top of the bottom tier of the SEC, Arkansas will have to bounce back from that schedule and win 2 out of 3 of Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi St.
That's just to go 6-6, but Arkansas fans are hoping for a steal while hosting South Carolina or on the road against Florida or the always wild end to the season against LSU. If they accomplish the 6 wins needed for a bowl and steal one more game it will be a very successful season. I guess what I was saying a little bit is that the ratings in the game actually make a little bit of sense.
Allen: Ah, honesty....I like it.....unfortunately for Hog fans. The ratings in the game do match up with the teams and their current situations. I'm thinking 6 wins would GREAT. This season was likely to be a rebuilding year even under Petrino. Take that and couple it with a tough schedule; a bowl game would be awesome. But I think it is best for all if we "Keep It Real" here about this upcoming season. That is what NCAA '14 is all about; thankfully the game can ease the pain. For the record, my Dynasty has this season's Arkansas team ranked in the Top 10 coming off a big win over Alabama. I beat them at their own game HAHA!
Robert: Congrats. I've been dealing with a couple vacations like going to the beach and stuff, but I've been excited to get the game. I've been playing since the 2005 edition, and I always loved watching the players carry the crystal football off the field. I've been a big fan of playing the game the week before the Hogs do so I can be familiar with the playmakers on the other team if I haven't watched them as much.
Allen: Beach vacation, Coach Bielema would be proud. The game won’t disappoint this year, the new Infinity Physics Engine and the running game go together like Bobby Petrino and motorcycles (too soon?) Like you, I've played many versions of the game over the years, but for those maybe just getting into it, there is a new mode called the "Nike Skills Challenge" where users can really learn and improve their skills - beginner to advanced. So far I'm really digging the game overall. Thanks for joining me Robert, you really brought up some good points.
Thanks for spending some time discussing NCAA '14 and the upcoming Arkansas Razorbacks football season! Hopefully see you at the Liberty Bowl?
Robert: As long as it's not as cold as 2009, we'll be okay. I'm originally from Memphis so I've been there many times. It's a much better bowl than where we went last season. Go Hogs!