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Previewing Arkansas: How bad were the Razorbacks last year? And how good can they be this year?


Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write:

Arkansas football represents everything I love about SEC football.

I can’t believe I just said that.  I guess I didn’t mean it completely.  Arkansas football represents everything I love about SEC football…except for recent winning (and the Razorbacks aren’t too far removed from that!).

Seriously. consider the last 19 months of Razorback football:

  • January 6, 2012: Arkansas defeats Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl to finish the season 11-2.
  • April 3, 2012: Arkansas Head Coach Bobby Petrino crashes his motorcycle.
  • April 6, 2012: Petrino reveals that a staffer he hired who just happens to be young and blonde was also with him on the motorcycle.  Oh also, he was sleeping with her.
  • April 10, 2012: It is discovered that Petrino threw $20k at the former All-SEC Volleyballer before she was hired. He’s fired.  Athletic Director Jeff Long is hailed as an American hero for getting rid of a scumbag who lied to him repeatedly and destroyed his family (and another).
  • April 23, 2012: John L. Smith is announced as the next head coach of Arkansas.
  • September 1, 2012: Arkansas opens the season ranked 10th in the county (per the AP) and the Razorbacks defeat Jacksonville State at home.
  • September 6, 2012: John L. Smith files bankruptcy.
  • September 8, 2012: Arkansas, now ranked 8th in the country, loses to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime.
  • September 9, 2012: Arkansas falls out of the top 25.  The ‘Backs don’t return.
  • September 15-November 23: Arkansas goes 3-7 over the final 10 games of the season.
  • November 24, 2012: Arkansas announces that John L. Smith will not be back.
  • December 1, 2012: Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema leads the Badgers to an impressive 70-31 win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game as his squad earns a trip to a third straight Rose Bowl.
  • December 4, 2012: Bielema is announced as the next head coach of Arkansas.
  • February 6, 2013: Arkansas comes out of nowhere to sign a recruiting class just outside of the top-25 (27th per Rivals.com).  Bielema, a defensive mind, wrangles in the nation’s 4th best tight end (Hunter Henry) 8th best offensive guard (Reeve Koehler), 13th best offensive tackle (Denver Kirkland) and somehow steals the nation’s 13th best running back away from Florida (Alex Collins).

That’s the kind of a ride you only find in the SEC.  Am I right, Jessica Dorrell?

PetrinoMotorCycle

And the coup of all this is that Arkansas self-imploded on the wheels of a motorcycle and then walked by a puppy store on the way home and said, “Daddy, I want that one!” pointed to Bret Bielema and stole the Big 10 coach who won 74% of his games, posted four seasons of 10+ wins (in 7 years) and took the Badgers to three-straight BCS Bowls.  That only happens in the SEC.

And the SEC is the only conference in America that legitimizes this narrative as well…

Arkansas wasn’t that bad last year.

The Razorbacks finished the season 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the SEC.  But you can make a heck of a case for early-season turmoil and poor coaching being the cause for the early-season setback to Louisiana-Monroe.

Top-10 expectations should have gone out the window the second Petrino’s bike went off the road, but somehow they stuck around.  Top-25 anticipation should have disippated with John L. Smith’s hiring.  Case in point: here’s his résumé over the last few years:

  • 2007-2008: Broadcasting
  • 2009-2011: Special Teams, Arkansas
  • 2012: Head Coach, Weber State (FCS)
  • 2012: Head Coach, Arkansas
  • 2013: Head Coach, Fort Lewis College (Division II)

Smith never even coached a game at Weber State and bolted for Arkansas.  I don’t blame him as that opportunity was well-beyond what he deserved.  His destination this year probably indicates that.  Smith was in over his head.  The team was in distress.  A loss like LA-Monroe was hilarious, but sadly appropriate.

Arkansas’ other seven losses came to:

  • Alabama: the National Champion
  • Rutgers: ranked for 7 weeks immediately following win against Arkansas, finished 9-4
  • Texas A&M: only team to beat Alabama, finished season ranked fifth, 11-2 overall
  • Ole Miss: a 3-point loss
  • South Carolina: finished the season ranked in the top-8, 11-2 overall
  • Mississippi State: finished 8-5, opened the season with a 7-game winning streak, was in the top-25 for eight weeks
  • LSU: finished the season 10-3, spent most of the season in the top-10

Even if Petrino had been back, losses to Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina and LSU would have been tolerable (but disappointing).  Losses to top-10 teams happen a lot, because teams ranked in the top-10 tend to win a lot.  It just happens.

It’s hard to shake a fist at losses to Rutgers and Mississippi State either, given the fact that those two teams were ranked more often than not.

Only the Ole Miss loss is a true black eye (and of course, Louisiana-Monroe).

I can say a lot of things about how Arkansas lost those games (and they wouldn’t be nice things), but truly extenuating circumstance involved in 2012.  Arkansas played terribly.  They lost a ton of fames.  But the core of the team was not that bad.

Offense

The big question for Arkansas moving forward is the quarterback position.  Brandon Allen will be called upon to replace Tyler Wilson, and if last year’s performance is any indication he has a lot of improving to do.  Allen, the nation’s 5th best Pro Style QB in the 2011 class according to Rivals, only threw 49 passes but threw more picks (3) than TDs (1), hit on just 42.9% of his throws and generated just 3.80 yards per attempt.  Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson (1100 yards, 10 TD combined last season) are gone and the offensive line is always a concern, but the QB position must be serviceable for the Razorbacks.  And Allen was not serviceable in his limited action last season.

If you’re looking for an emerging star on this offense, you have to start with freshman tailback Alex Collins.  He could start on day one.  He should be able to make plays.  In the passing game I like Mekale McKay a whole lot.  He’s 6-6 with decent speed and is learning to really go get the football.  He put up respectable numbers as a freshman (21 catches, 317 yards, 2 TDs) while finishing second on the team in receiving behind Cobi Hamilton (90 catches).

Defense

The defense was not terrible last year, but it should be improved by Bielema’s defensive mind.  And, this should be the strength of this team.  Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Bryan Johnson and Robert Thomas combined for 36 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks from the defensive line last year.  They’re all back and Smith and Flowers could threaten any All-SEC ballot you find.

The Razorbacks will need a lot out of that front unit as the linebacking crew is incredibly undersized.  Fortunately, everyone is back in the defensive backfield.

Prediction

Arkansas will open 3-0 following wins against LA-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss and I think they match their win total for 2012 on September 21 at Rutgers.  I can’t confidently expect the ‘Backs to upset Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama or LSU…but I wouldn’t be flabbergasted to see Bielema’s boys beat up one of those teams and pound them into submission in an ugly upset win.  Furthermore, I don’t see any reason why Arkansas can’t defeat two of their three remaining opponents: Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State (the Mississippi schools seem like the easiest targets).

At the end of the day 6-6 feels right.

That’s all I got/

Andrew

FOR THE REST OF THE COMPREHENSIVE 2013 SEASON PREVIEW GO HERE.

Disagreeing with Gurshall, Halle Berry and other SEC Stories from the week


Gurshall Disappoint

I heart Math.

I heart Math.

ESPN.com has a write-up on Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.  If you don’t like to read the summary is this: They’re really good football players, but they’re surprisingly low-key off the field. I do have one bone to pick with these two Dawgs.  Apparently they don’t play video games because video games are too low-key, and yet they recently took a trip to the movie theater to screen The Call.  Halle Berry or no Halle Berry that movie’s entire plot hinges on a series of phone calls.  That sounds more boring than a video game.  The Call is sitting at a 39% on Rotten TomatoesEntertainment Weekly offered the most glowing review as follows: If you’re going to watch a move in which two people talk on the phone for most of the film, it’s not the worst thing in the world for one of the folks involved to have the face of Storm from the X-Men.  Come on Gurshall!

 

Bob Stoops is Stoopid

This thing has probably been overblown, but in any event Big Game Bob (1-3 in BCS Championship Games, 1-5 in his last six BCS Bowls) deserves to be criticized.  But I already did that.

 

Florida is Stupid

In 2012 the Florida Gators ranked 78th in offensive points per game.  Here are a few of the Gators’ offensive highlights:

  • Scoring 20 against Texas A&M
  • Scoring 14 against LSU
  • Scoring 9 against Georgia
  • Scoring 14 against Missouri
  • Scoring 23 against FCS Jacksonville State
  • Scoring 23 against Division II Big East Louisville.

Those are they type of feats you achieve when your offense ranks 104th (out of 124 teams) in yards per game.  How do you maintain that type of production?  You keep your coaching staff in-tact.  How do you do that?  You give your Offensive Coordinator a $100k raise.  Now that’s offensive.

 

Head Hog’s Kitchen

Bret Bielema tweeted a picture of a dog on a counter in his kitchen.  I can’t out-do the coverage that has already been given this story, so read this for more thorough analysis.  Get Bielemic!

 

Auburn’s Bookstore

If you enjoy the awkwardness of filmed comedy that is only enjoyed by those who were involved in the production of filming said comedy, then you’re going to love Auburn’s new series “The Bookstore.”  The timing of this is certainly ill-advised as it’s made as some type of disgusting knockoff of “The Office.”  I feel like “Office” parodies were awesome seven of eight years ago, but as the show winds down most of the people still watching just hang around out of sense of obligation (I know this because I am one of those people).  Why capitalize on “The Office” now?  Why anything, Auburn?  Part one is here.  Part two is here.

The Rest of the SEC Tourney Today: Is Missouri worth anything to the SEC? Can Vandy hit more than 5% of shots?


Be Sure To Join the DudeYouCrazy March Madness Mastery Contest By Going Here and Creating an Entry! Prizes to Follow!

 

Here are three facts and a prediction for each of the other SEC Tournament Games going on today:

Tennessee vs. Mississippi State

  1. Tennessee guard Trae Golden played at McEachern High School – the alma mater of yours truly.  That’s where the similarities end.  He probably could have taken my spot on the Varsity Basketball team when I was a rising senior…and he was a rising eighth grader.  Trae plays guard at 6-2, 205; in high school I played the 4-spot at 6-2, 205.  Golden is a junior and has scored 894 points, grabbed 274 rebounds and handed out 338 assists while playing for the Vols.  I never recorded a single college basketball statistic.  But ask Trae who has more collegiate turnovers and who has missed more collegiate free throws.  Yeah…
  2. Tennessee beat Mississippi State by 15 points on January 19th.  And Tennessee has won seven more conference games.  So you could make the case that Tennessee is a lot better.
  3. Did you hear that Tennessee beat Kentucky?  Vols fans are still talking about that.

Tennessee wins.

 

Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas

  1. There are at least 323 Division I basketball programs.  How do I know that?  Because Vanderbilt ranks 323rd in the nation in points per game.
  2. On January 12th Vandy only scored 33 points in a 23-point loss to Arkansas.  The Commies  hit just 10 of 40 field goals in the game.  Of Course Marist (6-12 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) also held Vanderbilt to 33 points in a game this season (Vandy was 14-61 from the field!!!!), so that may be the norm.
  3. Vandy rebounded from that “effort” and defeated Arkansas 67-49 on February 9th.

Vandy shoots under 5% from the field. Arkansas wins.

 

Missouri vs. Texas A&M

  1. This is where the Tigers needs to earn their keep.  All last summer we heard about Mizzou football making an impact.  And all Fall we heard about how Mizzou’s real value for the SEC was in hoops.  That was cool back on December 27th when Missouri was ranked 7th in the nation with a  10-1 record and a lone loss to 4th ranked Louisville.  It’s not as believable now that they’re 11-7 in SEC play.
  2. Texas A&M defeated Missouri earlier in the season.  The game was a good one with the Aggies holding on 70-69 at home.
  3. Missouri, along with Florida, is considered one of just two “locks” for the Big Dance out of the SEC.

Surely Missouri is worth something, right?  We’ll find out today. Missouri wins.

 

That’s all I got/

Andrew

 

 

 

 

 

Handicapping the SEC West: How I did.


This is the eleventh article reviewing the topics I deemed most important to the SEC before the season began.

The previous articles in this series can be found here:

 

The SEC West

As you probably saw, I did really well handicapping the SEC East before the season started.  I wasn’t quite as dominant in the West as you can see below.

Team DYC Projected Wins Actual Wins Vegas Spot Dude Win $?
Alabama 11-12 11 10.5 Yes
Arkansas 7-8 4 8.5 Yes
Auburn 6-7 3 7.5 Yes
LSU 10-11 10 10 No
Miss. State 7-8 7 7 Even
Ole Miss 2-3 6 3.5-5.5 No
A&M 7-8 10 7 Yes

 

But hey, four wins isn’t awful.

 

That’s all I got/

Andrew

What Happened to Aaron Murray’s Heisman Campaign in 2012?


This is the eighth article reviewing the ten topics I deemed most important to the SEC before the season began.

The previous articles in this series can be found here:

The SEC’s Heisman Candidates

I’d be remiss to not recognize the big-eared and incredibly athletic white elephant in the room, Johnny Manziel, when discussing the 2012 Heisman campaign.  But, I’d by misleading to spend much time on him as the purpose of this series is to recount topics I explored and predictions that I made heading into the season.  I spent no time on Johnny Football.  I don’t think that was any more unreasonable than his rise to prominence was unexpected, so I forgive myself.

That being said, I did address the SEC candidates that Bovada placed odds on.  Here’s a recap:

Tyler Bray (130 to 1)

In August I hypothesized that the only person who should make this bet was Tyler Bray himself, otherwise it seemed ill-advised.  I was concerned about Bray’s wild and crazy offseason beer bottle throwing, the departure of a top target (Da’Rick Rogers had recently left Da’Team) and I didn’t foresee Tennessee winning enough games.  Regardless of how Bray performed, the Vols were the laughing stock of the league (well, aside from Kentucky and Auburn) and he was discounted appropriately for that.

Henry Josey (85 to 1)

This guy didn’t even suit up for Mizzou this year.  They could have used his talent at the RB position.

James Franklin (85 to 1)

Equally ridiculous was James Franklin’s inclusion on this list?  Did pundits truly expect his gimmicky game to translate to the SEC?  He missed three games this year, but his passing yardage decreased from 2865 to 1562 and his rushing production decreased form 981 yards to 122.  On a per-game basis Franklin went from contributing 295.85 yards of offense per game to accounting for just 187.11.  Franklin also declined from 36 total TDs to 10.

Eddie Lacey (85 to 1)

I liked this pick because of Alabama’s reliance on the running game.  His 1300 yards and 17 TDs proved to be nothing worth dismissing, but T.J. Yeldon took a few more carries than most might have anticipated.

Knile Davis (75 to 1)

In August I asserted that betting on Davis was risky – regardless of underlying odds.  I cited his injury issues and unsustained track record as reasons he would prove unreliable.  He played in every game but two (granted two games probably would have removed him from Heisman consideration in and of itself) but only accounted for a measly 377 yards on 112 carries.  He scored twice on the ground and once on a reception.  I hope you didn’t have money there.

Tyler Wilson (33 to 1)

I had no faith in Arkansas heading into the season and expected a decline from Wilson, and we saw one although I’m not sure all that blame falls on him.  In any event, betting on a high-powered offense that was moving forward without its mastermind seemed a bit foolish and it proved to be so.

A.J. McCarron (23 to 1)

I expected excellence from Alabama and great performance from A.J. in 2012, but I was concerned about the number of reps he would get.  There proved to be some truth there.  McCarron attempted just 314 passes in 2012; the average number of passes attempted by a pro-style Heisman-winning QB sine 2000 stands at 425.  Even with his stout numbers in efficiency and low INT totals, he didn’t carry enough burden to garner serious consideration.

Macrus Lattimore (18 to 1)

If Lattimore returned to his old form and stayed there this would have been a steal.  His campaign was hurt when he was hurt.

Aaron Murray (15 to 1)

Murray had the most favorable odds of all the SEC candidates heading into the season and I think that was a rightful position.  Here is everything I said about Murray:

The realistic “floor” for the Bulldogs in the regular season is 10 wins, and I think the odds of that happening are around 30%.  I think there’s a 35% chance the Dogs win 11 in the regular season and 35% chance the win all 12.

A great season for a 10-win SEC team can get a QB to New York.  The best offensive player on a 12-win SEC team is all but guaranteed to be a finalist.  So, in many ways Murray’s best chance to win the Heisman is to simply lead Georgia to victories.

In doing so, however he needs to continue to produce.  Murray has thrown for over 3000 yards in each of his first two seasons – that number should rise to 3500 or so with more mature receivers and continued questions at running back.  He’s hovered around 60% in completions but is targeting 65%.  Murray’s TD passes in 2011 is a more than ample figure (only 3 Heisman winning QBs have thrown more during their campaigns – Jason White, Sam Bradford, RG III), but he must limit his interceptions.  Last season Murray threw 14 picks; that number needs to be cut in half.  This is attainable as Murray threw half of his interceptions in three games – Mississippi State, LSU and Michigan State, and he actually played four games without throwing any.

If Murray can put this all together his line should look something like this: 276 for 425 passing with 3650 yards, 37 TDs, 7 INTs and a QB Efficiency Rating of 162.5.  Last season those numbers would have ranked 25th in completion percentage (13th among players with 400+ attempts), 13th in yards, 4th in TDs, 6th in INTs thrown with 400+ attempts and 7th in rating (5th with 400+ attempts).  If those numbers are reached Georgia will win at least 11 games and Murray willbe in NYC.

Surprisingly, I was pretty accurate on those assumptions.  Georgia won 11 regular season and stayed well within the “floor” as I defined it.  Murray hit on 64.5% of his passes (a solid increase and just shy of the 65% I arbitrarily set as his target).  He added to his TD total and trimmed his INTs from 14 to 10 (two of which were after the Heisman voting).  He surpassed the yardage goal I set and demolished the QB Efficiency target.

So what happened?  Murray laid an egg in a very public, very ugly game in Columbia, SC (11 of 31 for 109 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT) and disappeared from Heisman radars from that point forward.  Yes, Georgia was this close to making it to the National Championship Game but for the bulk of the season the Dawgs trailed the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon and Kansas State in media coverage and bowl projections.  Murray was M.I.A. – not in performance, but in conversation – for far too long to win the trophy.

Maybe he can build on that next year.  If the Dawgs come out respectably against a tough early slate (Clemson, South Carolina and LSU all before the end of September), then Murray may garner the national spotlight and hold onto through the remaining gauntlet.

That’s all I got/

Andrew

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