On Thanksgiving Day last year, Arkansas seemed to be in good position to win nine games for the first time since 2011.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Razorbacks had a 7-4 record with a game against struggling Missouri and a bowl contest. However, the Hogs blew leads in both games. Arkansas led Missouri 24-7 at halftime and lost 28-24. At halftime of the Belk Bowl, the Razorbacks led Virginia Tech 24-0. The Hokies won 35-24.
“At the end of the year, I felt we were getting better at moving in the right direction,” said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema at SEC Football Media Days on Monday. “Our last two games were not highlights, especially the way they ended.
“I looked at what we have to do to win games in the second half and not lose them. We had to look internally, first as coaches, and a little bit with our players.”
Bielema has a new defensive coordinator in former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. The Razorbacks are changing defensive schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Arkansas allowed 427 yards and 31 points per game. Hogs opponents rushed for 205 yards per game and averaged almost six yards per carry.
“We needed some type of defensive transition,” Bielema said. “We couldn’t play the way we were playing and not have a transition.
“Today, defensive linemen are hard to get. It is not easy to recruit four quality defensive men and have 16 on your roster. Only a couple of teams have that and they are elite teams. In 3-4, you will have eight guys on your feet. You can be more athletic.”
Coach Butch Jones has a totally different opinion of the state of the Tennessee football program than Vol Nation.
Jones points out that Tennessee has posted back-to-back nine-win seasons and has won three consecutive bowl games. But, the Volunteers fan base points out that Jones’ teams have a 12-12 SEC record the past three seasons.
Last season was a major disappointment for Tennessee. The Vols beat both Florida and Georgia and still did not reach the SEC championship game because of losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The defeat against Commodores prevented Tennessee from reaching the Sugar Bowl.
“I am proud of how far we have come,” Jones said. “We are building a program where we will have sustained success. I have never looked at it as unfair criticism. The expectations are definitely high, but that’s what you want as a competitor. No one wants it more than Butch Jones.”
The Tennessee defense was a mess last season when opponents averaged 29 points and 449 yards per game. Six teams scored at least 30 points against the Vols. New defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did have to deal with numerous injuries.
“This is a line of scrimmage league and it starts with stopping the run,” Jones said. “We need to get our health back. We must play team defense and our guys must understand their run fits. We must make teams one-dimensional by taking away the run. Then, we can’t give up big plays in the back end.”
Offensively, Jones must replace three-year starter Joshua Dobbs. No decision has been made between junior Quinten Dormady, who threw 17 passes last year, and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano.
SEC COMMISSIONER GREG SANKEY
The turmoil surrounding the playing of last season’s LSU-Florida game should not occur in the future. Conference presidents have now given the league’s commissioner the power to determine when a game will be played.
“We didn’t have a policy as a conference once you move past game day,” Sankey said. “It needs to be the authority of the commissioner to determine the game time. That has been corrected. It is no longer about two schools agreeing.”
There has been talk of making the college football regular season consist of 14 weeks. Presently, there are some years when there is a 14-week season – 12 games and two open dates. Sankey is not ready to accept a 14-week season every year.
“I do not have opposition to the 14-week season,” Sankey said. “I have curiosity and interest. I do not want the start of practice pushed back earlier into the summer. There has to be a sensitivity to student-athletes who are completing summer school.”
Some schools are beginning practice earlier this summer since two-a-days have been eliminated. Schools have 29 practice opportunities before their opening game.
“Not everybody is going back one week with their practice start this year,” Sankey said. “Not all the coaches use the 29, but they all want flexibility.”
Sankey said there has been no agenda item about realigning the divisions. There has also been no talk of standardizing the substance-abuse policy for the SEC. Also, the conference has no intention of setting up an injury-reporting process for football teams.