HOOVER, Ala. — Coach Bret Bielema, linebacker Brooks Ellis, defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle will represent the Arkansas football program during SEC Media Days on Wednesday morning.
Bielema has never shied away from speaking his mind — could he be the new Steve Spurrier at this event, perhaps? — and along with the senior trio of Ellis, Wise and Sprinkle, this group of Razorbacks should provide plenty for Arkansas fans hungry for information.
Here are five burning questions Bielema and his players likely will answer Wednesday:
What would ‘success’ look like in Bielema’s fourth season?
Arkansas has improved its record in each of Bielema’s three seasons in Fayetteville (3-9 in 2013, 7-6 in 2014, 8-5 in 2015), so it would be natural for Razorbacks fans to expect a nine-win season this year. And there’s plenty of reason to think that it could happen.
Arkansas’ toughest SEC foes (Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU) must all visit Fayetteville, and the Hogs going 3-1 in those contests isn’t entirely inconceivable. Louisiana Tech, Texas State and Alcorn State should all be wins.
That leaves a rough non-conference game at TCU; the annual neutral-site game against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas; and games at Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri.
Those games, in theory, look winnable, with the possible exception of TCU, a legitimate 2016 Big 12 title contender.
Still, Arkansas will start the year with a new quarterback, a new lead rusher and three new offensive linemen. It isn’t hyperbole to say that the Hogs’ overall success will largely hinge on how those players perform. If there is a steep learning curve, the Razorbacks could go 7-6 or 8-5 but still finish the season feeling positive about the future.
What must happen for Arkansas to finally put together a complete season?
In the last two seasons, Arkansas is 8-8 in the months of August, September and October.
Conversely, the Hogs are 6-3 in November, December and January during the same two seasons. Arkansas convincingly beat ranked LSU teams in each of the last two Novembers.
Last season, the Razorbacks were playing about as well as anyone in the SEC by the time the regular season ended.
There is reason to believe things could go similarly for Arkansas in 2016, when they play at TCU; vs. Texas A&M in Arlington; vs. Alabama; vs. Ole Miss; and at Auburn all before November.
Combine that grueling early schedule with inexperience at key offensive positions, and the first couple months of the season could be rough on the Razorbacks. Heck, last season, the Hogs returned the very experienced Brandon Allen at quarterback and Alex Collins at running back and still struggled out of the gate.
So what gives Bielema and his players hope that this year might be different?
What kind of leader has Austin Allen been this summer?
So much of being the starting quarterback is leadership, so when Bret Bielema announced that Austin Allen would be the guy a few months ago, he immediately assumed some important responsibilities for the summer months. How did he handle those?
Given his experience in the system and the fact that he watched his brother effectively lead the Hogs the last several seasons, I can’t imagine there would be any problems in this department for Austin. It will still be interesting to hear about how he handled it from Bielema and Allen’s teammates.
Will Arkansas’ offense look familiar at all in 2016?
Arkansas returns Sprinkle at tight end and several very talented wide receivers. There is no telling at this point who might step up as the No. 2 tight end, and no one knows yet which running back will assume the role as lead ball carrier.
Might that mean a new-look Razorbacks offense? For the first time in the Bielema era, it seems that the Hogs’ best offensive group might include three wide receivers.
Which newcomers will be relied upon the most?
Four-star running back signee Devwah Whaley will have every opportunity to be the Razorbacks’ top rusher this season. Defensive end McTelvin Agim is one of Arkansas’ most high-profile signees in recent years and was an early enrollee.
Those are the two newcomers being most talked about, but other freshmen who could make an immediate impact include linebacker De’jon Harris, defensive tackle Briston Guidry, running back/receiver T.J. Hammonds and receiver Jordan Jones.
Also keep an eye on junior-college signees Paul Ramirez (offensive lineman) and Britto Tutt (cornerback).