CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 15 Arkansas

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2011 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC (3rd in West)

2011 postseason: Cotton Bowl (29-16 win over Kansas State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 5/No. 5

Head coach: John L. Smith (132-86 overall, first season at Arkansas)

Offensive coordinator: Paul Petrino (first season back at Arkansas as OC after spending two seasons at Illinois)

2011 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (137.4 ypg); 13th passing offense (300.7 ypg); 29th total offense (438.1 ypg); 15th scoring offense (36.8 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Paul Haynes (first season as Arkansas DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 74th rushing defense (167.6 ypg); 25th passing defense (195.2 ypg); 47th total defense (362.8 ypg); 33rd scoring defense (22.2 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Fayetteville, Ark.

Stadium: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (80,000; PowerBlade HP turf)

Last league title: 1989 (Southwest)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
For one, quarterback Tyler Wilson, one of the top players at his position in the country.  Despite the loss of a handful of talented receivers, Wilson will still have plenty of returning talent to which to throw.  Drawing the powerful combo of Alabama and LSU at home is certainly a plus, although playing the likes of those two national title contenders anywhere would certainly not qualify as a picnic at any level.

The Bad
Take your pick as to the bad for the Razorbacks in 2012.  The offseason soap opera that led to a change at head coach, with John L. Smith replacing the ousted Bobby Petrino on what’s presumed to be a one-year basis.  Or there’s still having to get over that SEC West hump that consists of the annual matchups with Alabama and LSU.  Or Knile Davis returning to full strength health-wise in the rugged SEC after a significant ankle injury prematurely ended his 2011 season.  Arkansas certainly has the talent of a Top 10 team, but will it be able to successfully navigate all three of those obstacles, particularly the latter two?

The Unknown
Flip a coin between Davis staying healthy and maintaining his explosive self or the squad being able to get past the drama that was the Hogs’ offseason.  Losing Petrino, merely from the offensive perspective and even with another Petrino at the steering wheel, is a huge blow that seems to have been pushed to the side by the presence of the verbose and ultra-confident Smith.

Make-or-break game: ???
Grab another coin, or the same one used above, and flip it again.  Alabama Sept. 15?  LSU Nov. 24? “Sir, would you like the steel-toed boot that’s hurtling toward your groin to be a size 12 or size 13?”  The Razorbacks only two blemishes in 2011 were to the Tide and Tigers; the past three years, Arkansas has just one win in six attempts over the twosome.  Until the Hogs can get past both, they’ll continue to be perennial SEC West also-rans.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Tyler Wilson
3,648 yards passing and 24 touchdowns — against just six interceptions — while playing quarterback for a top-ten SEC team will certainly get you attention from the voters, and that’s certain to happen as the senior embarks on his final season with the Razorbacks.  The loss of the man who put him into the position to be mentioned in Heisman talk will likely hurt, but the fact that Bobby Petrino’s brother Paul is the offensive coordinator can do nothing but soften the blow.  Wilson expects no hiccups as a result of the coaching change; whether that’s the case will determine how deep into the season he remains a topic of Heisman conversation.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Ex-UCLA OC helped convince Wilton Speight to transfer to Westwood

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When Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight announced he was going to graduate and transfer to UCLA, many were caught by surprise given that the 6-foot-6 pro-style passer is not your typical fit for Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. While the new Bruins’ head coach brought up how Sam Bradford and Nick Foles ran his system to convince the quarterback to pick the school for the 2018 season, it was a former assistant at the program who appears to have been just as convincing in bringing the big QB to Westwood.

That would be Jedd Fisch, who was Speight’s coach in Ann Arbor for two years before he left to take the offensive coordinator job with the Bruins when Jim Mora was still in charge last season. The veteran coach returned to the NFL as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams shortly after Kelly was hired but he reconnected with his old pupil to give him an honest assessment of how he’d fit in with a school sporting a different shade of blue.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight told the LA Times, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Speight will join a very competitive race to be the starter for the opener against Cincinnati when fall camp rolls around. Devon Modster is the incumbent having gotten experience last year when Josh Rosen was held out of several games while incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is considered the future at the position and figures to see early playing time.

It remains to be seen just how good UCLA will be in their first season with Kelly in charge but the head coach will certainly have a variety of options to choose from at the most important position on the field this year.

Proposed California amendment would cap coaches salaries at $200,000

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Some states do everything they can to help out athletics programs in their borders, that is something that California has never really been accused of doing. A state-wide travel ban has already caused some ripples with regards to scheduling for some teams and it seems lawmakers in Sacramento are back with a new constitutional amendment that could hamper schools ability to pay their coaches.

UCLA student paper The Daily Bruin passes along news that a new constitutional amendment was announced last week “that aims to restrict the University of California’s autonomy by reducing staff salaries, the length of regents’ terms and the authority of the UC president.” That first item is the biggest to take note of, which would institute a cap on non-faculty salaries to $200,000 per year — something that would affect everybody from coaches to the athletic director and everybody in between.

The University of California (UC) system most notably includes Pac-12 schools like UCLA and Cal, which means coaches like Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox could be affected. To take Kelly as an example, he signed a five-year contract worth a total of $23.3 million when he was hired by the Bruins this offseason.

Head football coaches salaries are not typically paid completely by a school directly however, so there is some wiggle room should this amendment wind up passing. Often a separate athletics organization will foot most of the bill using funds raised from donors while other outside companies sometimes also get involved. Things might be a little more interesting when it comes to assistant’s salaries or non-football/men’s basketball head coaches and support staffers however, who could fall under the purview of the cap.

In other words, some creative accounting practices might have to be implemented by schools like UCLA or Cal or else they’ll be at a significant disadvantage compared to their private school peers like USC or Stanford as well as conference rivals like Arizona or Oregon.

It’s far from certain the amendment will pass given that it requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature as well as passing muster on a state-wide ballot measure during a general election. We don’t typically see college coaches wade too far into political waters but, in this case, they might be forced to because its one that directly affects their wallets.

Arkansas moving back to natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2019

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It’s a new era at Arkansas with Chad Morris and a new athletic director in charge and not even the turf will be spared from seeing changes.

Per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the school will be moving to a natural grass field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium instead of replacing their current artificial turf again as it nears the end of its lifespan.

“Let me say my preference is I love natural grass,” Morris told the paper a few months ago. “That’s just me. Maybe that’s just the high school coach in me.

“Worrying about what the next surface out here looks like is irrelevant to me. I just want to get through a practice and get better today. But I prefer, I’m a natural grass type of guy. I love being on a grass field. There’s nothing better than that in college football, or football period.”

Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed this weekend that the change was being made in Fayetteville after the 2018 season concludes. The current turf was put in back in the Bobby Petrino era in 2009 and will need to be replaced after a decade or so of heavy use.

This will not be the end of Razorbacks playing on turf however, as they will not only see the stuff for games at neutral sites and at other SEC opponents but also when they make their annual trek to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock — which had turf installed a dozen years ago.

West Virginia President on old Big 12 expansion craze: “It was a little bit messy”

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E. Gordon Gee is one of college athletics’ most recognizable figures, which isn’t exactly what you typically say about school leaders like him. The West Virginia President known for his trademark bow tie (and who has never shied away from an interview or a quip he didn’t like) is on the cusp of his first set of spring meetings in the conference as the new chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

Speaking to the Dallas Morning News about a range of issues around the league prior to meeting in Dallas, Gee seems to have come around on conference expansion from a few years ago and thinks it not only could have been handled better, but it probably shouldn’t be done in the first place because being the smallest Power Five league has its advantages too.

“I’m not certain it was the best way to do it,” Gee told the paper. “It was a little bit messy — and I was part of the mess.

“Intimacy gives us an opportunity to do something that a lot of other places can’t do… We’ll play to our strengths. We’re small, but we can be very aggressive in positioning ourselves uniquely.”

I’m sure the folks at places like Houston and BYU would agree the entire process was messy but will certainly disagree with Gee about the Big 12 sticking with just 10 members. It certainly sounds as though the issue has been put to bed for the foreseeable future but if the merry-go-round gets going once again, at least we know that the process everybody goes through will be a lot different.