Doc Harper: Razorbacks In For Painful College Football Preview Season

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People mark offseason checkpoints in different ways.

Many observe the “National Signing Day → Spring Game → SEC Media Days → Kickoff” thread.

Others follow the “College Basketball → College Baseball/NBA Playoffs → MLB/Weddings/Vacations → Kickoff” calendar.

This year, I’m rolling on the “Justified/Dallas → Game of Thrones/Mad Men → Dexter/True Blood → Breaking Bad/Kickoff” train.

Every fan also 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.

(Warning: some NSFW language)


Here’s a sample of the preview reaction on Twitter


Tough sledding!


Ice cold coffee!

Definition of rebuilding!

Horror! It’s the Vincent Price “Thriller” rap come to life. “Darkness falls across the land/the midnight hour is close at hand…”

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.

But Bret Bielema has a done a great job of breaking against the national narrative regarding Arkansas. He’s been leading the charge with the storyline that it’s not a rebuilding job in Fayetteville, that the team had one bad year which wasn’t indicative of the actual talent on the roster. Whether you believe that bowl eligibility should be the team’s goal going into the season (as I do), it’s not hard to catch yourself buying into everything Bielema has been selling, even if reality sets in quickly thereafter.

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 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.

Over on SB Nation, we recently held a roundtable of the various SEC site managers and one of the questions was “Who is the SEC’s most mysterious team?”  Two of the other six SEC West editors answered Arkansas just because of the upgrade in leadership. They acknowledge that Arkansas had a roster that was better than 4-8, and it’s hard to say at this point how much talent is still there and how well any of that talent will mesh with an improved coaching staff.

As a result, even though the Hogs’ talent isn’t as good as it was last season, there are other ways the team can be expected to improve. 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.

But that’s not the sort of thing most preview magazines normally consider. And, honestly, it may not result in any wins this season (I’d be surprised if the over/under line on Arkansas’ wins this year is anything other than 5.5). But it may at least keep the Razorbacks competitive in some games, and that would be an improvement. You never know if there will be any teams on Arkansas’ schedule who go through an unexpectedly difficult year and give the Hogs a chance at a victory no one’s counting on right now. You know, like Arkansas last season.

After all, the Hogs have a great center.  In fact, in an absolutely hilarious piece of spin, UA actually linked to the putrid USA Today preview, highlighting that one little part of it:

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