SEC: Austin Allen

Planning for success: Arkansas

November, 25, 2014
When Bret Bielema arrived at Arkansas and brought his physical style of play from the Big 10 to the SEC, people laughed at him. The rest of college football wanted to spread you out and go fast, and he was stuck in the past. Everybody wrote him off after his Razorbacks went winless in conference play his first season.

Nobody's laughing now.

Arkansas has won back-to-back SEC games, shutting out No. 17 LSU and No. 8 Ole Miss the past two weeks, and the Hogs are bowl eligible for the first time in three years. As Bielema says, he never flinched. He stayed the course and stuck to his style.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Williams and the Razorbacks are riding a two-game win streak -- against SEC foes, no less.
"It's not my style. It's Arkansas' style," Bielema said Monday. "I think a lot of people when I came here believed that I was going to take this cookie-cutter approach, treat everybody like little sugar cookies in all the little things that we do, and I didn't take that approach.

"I knew that I was going to have to adjust coming to a different league. But I carried forward a lot of the principles I believe in."

It took some time, but the players eventually bought in. Now they're finally beginning to see the hard work pay off after enduring so many hardships early on.

"To finally get over the hump and get some SEC wins under our belt, it's very rewarding," Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers said.

"Coach knew the things he was doing would produce wins eventually. Maybe not right away and it probably wouldn't be the prettiest wins, but they would eventually win and eventually win some championships."

Bielema's team won't be winning any championships this season, but they will still play a major role in which teams will meet in next week's SEC championship.

A week after ruining Ole Miss' chances of winning the West and possibly making the playoff, the Razorbacks have a chance to play spoiler again this week when they travel to Missouri. A Missouri win and the Tigers are headed back to the SEC title game. But if Arkansas wins, it will be Georgia who represents the East in Atlanta.

"Our coach told us if we can't be in it, we might as well mess up everybody else's chances," Flowers said. "But we're just looking for wins. We're not focusing on trying to spoil people's chances. We're still going out there, competing, and we're trying to put Arkansas on the map.

"I think it's more about gaining respect from everybody, all the opponents and everyone around the country."

Another win against a ranked opponent would be huge for the program, but Arkansas is already on the map. The Razorbacks, despite five SEC losses, received the most votes of any team not ranked in the AP Top 25 this week.

In Vegas, one oddsmaker had the Hogs as 1.5-point underdogs to No. 1 Florida State if the two played on a neutral site tomorrow, assuming quarterback Brandon Allen was healthy enough to play. Allen, who injured his hip against Ole Miss last week, has "a chance" to play this Friday, according to Bielema, but the point is that this Arkansas team can play with anybody.

"Oh yeah, no doubt," Flowers said. "I feel as though if you put us on the field with anybody -- the national champion or whoever -- I know we're going to be able to compete with them."

"As far as playing good football, I think we're playing as good as anybody. I really do," Bielema added. "Now what we do on Friday is totally in our hands, but I'd be very surprised if we didn't go over there and play very, very well and give everybody something to think about."

If Allen can't go, his brother Austin Allen, will likely get the start against Missouri. But regardless of who's under center, Arkansas has a pair of potential 1,000-yard rushers and a defense that hasn't allowed a point in eight quarters.

And really, that's all Bielema needs with his "old-school" approach.

Final spring game recaps

April, 28, 2014
A quick review of the spring games at Arkansas and Kentucky:


The Razorbacks' Red team, which was headed by a solid running game, won 61-22 over the White Team in Arkansas' spring game. The star of the day was sophomore running back Korliss Marshall, who rushed for a game-high 99 yards. He also had a 59-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the Red team a 20-15 lead. The Red team finished with 252 rushing yards and four touchdowns Saturday. Red team quarterback Brandon Allen separated himself as the Hogs' starter this spring and finished with a game-high 108 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Austin Allen, Brandon Allen's brother, ended the day with 139 passing yards and two touchdowns while splitting time with both teams. To read more about Arkansas' spring game, check out the Hogs' official website.


Led by the first-team offense and defense, the Blue team dominated the White team 38-14 during the Wildcats' Blue/White spring game. Offense was the name of the game for the Blue team, as it outgained the White team 437-165. It was also a day to see who could take a big step in the race to be Kentucky's starting quarterback. With Jalen Whitlow transferring, the Wildcats had three quarterbacks -- true freshman Drew Barker, redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips -- share reps with both teams. Towles was the most impressive of the three, passing for a game-high 126 yards and an interception. Barker and Phillips each threw for 74 yards and combined for three touchdowns. Receiver Demarco Robinson had a big day, catching eight passes for 115 yards and a 30-yard touchdown. For more on Kentucky's spring game, check out its official website.

Opening spring camp: Arkansas

March, 14, 2014
Schedule: The Razorbacks open spring camp with their first practice on Sunday. They conclude with the Red-White Game on April 26 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The spring game is free to attend.

What's new: Arkansas hired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach Robb Smith as defensive coordinator to replace Chris Ash, who left for Ohio State. Prior to working in the NFL, Smith was the defensive coordinator at Rutgers. The Razorbacks replaced defensive line coach Charlie Partridge with Rory Segrest, who coached the same position at Samford. They also hired Clay Jennings, who coached at TCU for the past six seasons, to replace defensive backs coach Taver Johnson, who went to Purdue. Linebackers coach Randy Shannon was promoted to senior associate head coach.

On the mend: The Hogs are healthy heading into their first practice this weekend. Just one player is out for the spring, junior tight end Mitchell Loewen (torn ACL).

On the move: Arkansas has a challenge in finding a replacement for center Travis Swanson, who started all 50 games of his career. Luke Charpentier was Swanson's top backup as a junior last season, but sophomore Cordale Boyd is moving from guard to compete for the job this spring. With the departure of senior fullback Kiero Small, the Razorbacks will move junior tailback Kody Walker and could also look to shift junior Jonathan Williams from tailback in order to stack the backfield. Williams has put on 15 pounds without sacrificing speed.

New faces: There are eight early enrollees who will participate this spring: quarterback Rafe Peavey, wide receivers Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister, cornerbacks Chris Murphy and Cornelius Floyd, linebacker Khalia Hackett, offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and defensive tackle Armon Watts.

Question marks: There are a lot after the Razorbacks went 3-9 in Bret Bielema's first season. Arkansas was also winless in conference play for the first time since 1942. So, is the head coach's honeymoon over already? Clearly some of the luster has worn off of Bielema's star just a year after Arkansas was widely praised for its surprise hire. Another question concerns his pace-of-play crusade. Was the intent to deflect attention from his team's performance? Now that the 10-second rule has been shelved, the focus shifts back to making progress on the field. Bielema will be under more scrutiny from a restless fan base in Year 2.

The next question, therefore, is how much can the Hogs improve? They've got a lot of work to do on a defense that gave up an average of 6.1 yards per play last season and allowed more than 30 points a game for the second straight year. On offense, Arkansas averaged just over 20 points a game in 2013, their lowest production since 1997. There are pieces in place on both sides of the ball for Bielema to engineer a quick turnaround, however, and he'll spend this spring building his players’ confidence.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas has announced the signing of Bret Bielema to a two-year contract extension, keeping the coach at the school through the 2020 season.
Key battle: The competition at quarterback will be a classic case of an underperforming veteran trying to fend off some talented newcomers. Brandon Allen struggled as a sophomore in his first go-round as a full-time starter. He threw for just 1,552 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but it was the 49.6 completion percentage that has Bielema looking for more. Last season, juco transfer AJ Derby got a start and some playing time but failed to impress. This spring Allen will be the favorite to keep his job, but he'll have to beat out his younger brother. Austin Allen was a four-star prospect who redshirted last season. One more challenger is Peavey, the true freshman. He's another four-star prospect whom ESPN ranked the No. 10 dual-threat QB prospect in the Class of 2014.

Breaking out: Linebacker is the other big position battle this spring, as it was a sore spot in 2013. Five different players made starts at linebacker last season. Braylon Mitchell tied for second on the team with 77 tackles as a junior, and juco transfer Martrell Spaight will have to improve on his 22 tackles. But the player whom Bielema has the most praise for is Fayetteville's own Brooks Ellis, who started the last four games of 2013 at middle linebacker as a true freshman. Look for Ellis to pick up where he left off in November.

Don't forget about: Arkansas' defensive line could be a strength and key the turnaround that is desperately needed on defense. Trey Flowers, who had a breakout season at defensive end in leading the team with 13.5 tackles for loss, resisted the lure of the NFL to return for his senior season. He's also put on 15 pounds and should play faster and more aggressively in Smith's defense. Defensive tackle Darius Philon was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after recording 46 tackles and three sacks. He stepped into the starting lineup due to an injury and never looked back.

All eyes on: Alex Collins was the crown jewel of Bielema's first recruiting class and lived up to expectations with an SEC Freshman of the Year performance. He became the first true freshman in Arkansas history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. Making such a splash means that Collins is now the most visible Razorback and will be held to a higher standard. That's why Bielema suspended him from football activities and social media for a week in February. The head coach says Collins has responded well to the discipline, but Bielema is clearly keeping an eye on his star tailback.

SEC recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the SEC conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the SEC:

Ole Miss' class will eventually be ranked in the top five nationally with the addition of No. 1 overall prospect Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and possibly ESPN 150 prospects Chris Jones from Houston (Miss.) High and Antonio Conner from Batesville (Miss.) South Panola.

SEC East

Biggest need: Florida wants immediate help at defensive tackle. Jarran Reed from Scooba (Miss.) East should be able to provide that if he decides to sign with the Gators on national signing day.
Biggest recruit: The Gators have two five-star commitments: cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III from Tampa (Fla.) Wharton and running back Kelvin Taylor from Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades. No other school in the country can say that.

Biggest need: The Bulldogs would like to pick up another top offensive lineman. They looked destined to land Laremy Tunsil from Lake City (Fla.), but the competition has heated up for him lately.
Biggest recruit: With 12 ESPN 300 commitments, Georgia has plenty of star power. However, it's impossible to overvalue the commitment of Brice Ramsey from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden, a quarterback the Bulldogs can build around.

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