The 2012 season was a disaster for Arkansas. The Hogs began the year ranked in the top 10, but finished 4-8 under interim coach John L. Smith. Arkansas will hold their first spring practice under new head coach Bret Bielema today, March 10, and the Red-White Spring Game will take place on April 20. Trent Wooldridge of Arkansas Expats takes a look at the Razorbacks for us in our Arkansas 2013 Spring Preview.
Arkansas’ 2012 was so much worse than anyone expected. Coming off of an 11-2 season in 2011 capped off by a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State, most national pundits had the Hogs in their preseason Top 10, with fans and local media talking SEC and possibly BCS Championship.
And then… well, you know.
Without the blinders that come with emotional investment, many cooled on the Hogs, but most of us within The Natural State stayed strong in the belief that the talent on campus was enough to make 2012 the year, even without the leadership of Bobby Petrino. How wrong we were.
With new head coach Bret Bielema such a departure from his predecessor (Petrino, not John L. Smith), and the 2012 season such a circus, it is really hard to say what strengths the Hogs will carry into 2013. Forced to guess, I’ll say the offensive and defensive lines.
The line has been the Razorbacks’ best level of defense for the past three seasons, and 2013 looks to be the same with the return of Trey Flowers, Chris Smith, and Austin Flynn, among others.
Offensive line play has been a struggle for the past two seasons (queue video montage of Tyler Wilson getting pummeled in literally every game of 2012.), but the combination of returning starters, promising new talent, and the reputation of both Bielema and new offensive line coach Sam Pittman have many looking forward to what the big uglies can accomplish this season.
The biggest potential concern I see for the Razorbacks in 2013 is the potential lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
The defense fell victim to this phenomenon last season in the absence of Jake Bequette, but the offense still had Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, and Chris Gragg to lean on following the departure of receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs to the NFL. Now, Hamilton, Wilson, and Gragg are gone as well, in addition to running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson.
There is certainly talent at the skill positions at Arkansas, but there is also a question of depth.
Running back Johnathan Williams had an impressive freshman season , and fans and coaches alike are excited about incoming freshman Alex Collins, but what is behind those two is a question mark.
The receiving corps is solid if unspectacular, especially in comparison to the stars that have played for the Razorbacks over the past few seasons.
Quarterback presents yet another question mark as spring will likely see a heated competition between Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell, who has voiced a desire to return back to quarterback after spending last season at wide receiver.
Honestly, I didn’t think much of Bret Bielema before he came to Arkansas. Though his first team at Wisconson defeated Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl in 2006, he didn’t impress me much as a coach. Prior to his arrival in Fayetteville, I considered him an okay coach who took advantage of being in the Big Ten while Michigan and Ohio State were somewhat down.
Since his arrival in Fayetteville, however, he has done every single thing right. From assembling a staff that rivals most any in the country, to tearing down and rebuilding a recruiting class within a span of three weeks and turning it into something to be excited about, to diving headfirst into the culture shock that comes when an outsider decides to move to Arkansas.
It appears that he is buying in to the idea of Arkansas, and fans in turn are buying in to the idea of Bret Bielema. So far it’s a happy marriage.
For more Arkansas football analysis and commentary you can follow Trent on Twitter @twooldridge.