For the first time in his three seasons at Arkansas, coach Bret Bielema spent time at SEC media days answering questions about the Razorbacks’ potential to be under-the-radar winners of the West Division.
Although his teams have lost 14 of the 16 conference games they have played in his tenure at the school, Bielema said Wednesday that he believes his senior-laden squad with 16 returning starters from a 7-6 squad can win the West if the Hogs stay healthy and catch some breaks.
“I know this. At the end of last year, not a lot of people would have loved to play Arkansas,” said Bielema, whose squad capped its season with a 31-7 thumping of Texas in the Texas Bowl. “I don’t plan on going backwards. Only forwards.”
In a balanced West Division race, Arkansas returns a fifth-year senior starter at quarterback, two 1,000-yard rushers and a veteran offensive line. The unanswered question is whether the Hogs, who have been included in multiple preseason Top 25 rankings, can handle heightened internal expectations after posting records of 3-9 and 7-6 the past two seasons.
Never miss a local story.
“We hear the outside speculation. But our expectations within our own team is to win every single game we play,” quarterback Brandon Allen said. “There’s really no gap between the teams in the West. It’s about who can put it together and play the better game for 60 minutes. We think that should be us. We really do.”
Saban’s NFL tip
After watching Alabama’s team chemistry get “affected by something” during the month between a victory in the SEC Championship Game and a playoff loss to Ohio State on Jan. 1, coach Nick Saban called for a shift in the Dec. 15 deadline for underclassmen to request a draft grade from NFL evaluators in efforts to sound out their value in the NFL Draft.
Saban suggested that players should be allowed to wait until the completion of their college season before requesting the information, which would push back the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to announce their draft intentions.
“I think a week or 10 days would be beneficial,” Saban said of a delayed deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft, typically held the final week in April. “And I think a rule that says you can’t get information to players on their draft status until after they’ve completed their college competition would be beneficial.”
Alabama had six underclassmen take part in the 2015 NFL Draft and Saban questioned whether those players were fully focused on the task at hand during the team’s 43-35 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
A&M season tickets
Texas A&M officials announced a limited number of football season tickets have become available to the general public following completion of a Kyle Field selection process for season-ticket holders and fans on a wait list.
School officials did not cite a specific number of seats that remain for the Aggies’ seven-game home schedule in College Station but said most available seats are in the north or south end zones. Get more information at 12thMan.com/tickets or call 888-992-4443.
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk said he has enjoyed seeing predictions in summer magazines that place the Tigers behind Georgia, and often Tennessee, in the projected SEC East Division race. Missouri has won the last two division titles and Mauk, one of the league’s few returning starters at quarterback, said he and teammates will use the unflattering projections as motivation during fall drills.
“We are going to be disrespected,” Mauk said. “We are going to be on the bottom of everybody’s polls and it’s something we can’t control. We are back-to-back SEC (East) champs and we are coming for the third. We’re going to be ready.”
Whole Hog cover boys
Bielema said school officials selected a photo of him with the Razorbacks’ offensive linemen to grace the cover of this year’s football media guide for two reasons. Bielema said the 300-pounders were “the only group that I feel good about taking a picture with.” He also said it will help him recruit the next round of linemen when this group graduates.
“We’re probably the only school in the country to do this … maybe ever,” Bielema said. “I can show an offensive lineman when he comes in on an official visit” and remind him that other schools did not feature those players.
“It goes a long way,” Bielema said.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760