Jason Kersey/SEC Country
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema

National media ignoring Arkansas football and that’s A-OK right now

With your bacon, have some Hogs for Breakfast. It’s SEC Country’s weekday column and roundup on all things Arkansas. Opinion, numbers, inane babble and more! And now with ironic exclamation points. There is no place like it on the Web.

The second week of Arkansas spring practice gets underway later Tuesday on the fields outside the Fred W. Smith Football Center. Practice No. 4 of 15 will likely continue with down-and-distance specializations, coach Bret Bielema said.

It isn’t sexy, but the fundamentals approach is the biggest part of spring camp. And with Arkansas, it’s maybe the most important as the team breaks in two new coaches and a new defensive coordinator to boot.

With all that, check around the Web and you’ll find almost no one talking Arkansas football. Expectations aren’t high for the Razorbacks. The loss of the entire receiving corps, save Jared Cornelius, the entire defensive line (which wasn’t good last season, anyway) and a shift to new things all around, and Bielema’s crew is simply getting the “meh” treatment.

That’s probably a good thing.

Think about it. This time last year, the hype was real. It hadn’t grown out of control yet — that wouldn’t come until August, but it was building. Remember how much you read and heard about how awesome the defensive line would be? A lot of that was on Bielema for amping up expectations.

He isn’t doing that this season. So far, just one week in, it’s a slow-and-steady approach. The Razorbacks are better off with the pundits not picking them to beat Alabama, local radio hosts tabbing them to win 10 games or columnists saying they’ll have one of the best units this generation.

That stuff is being ignored. Arkansas is content to lay in the proverbial weeds. Take ’em by surprise. Because, while the Hogs did win seven games last season, the way the season finished, it felt like a letdown. Whereas the year before, another seven wins in the regular season felt like a boon.

The difference? Expectation.

And, well, collapse.

But the Razorbacks can control only one of those right now.

Neighbors hire is official

When Mike Neighbors calls the Arkansas women’s basketball coaching job his “dream job,” you tend to believe him.

The Greenwood native was officially named the ninth coach in the program’s history on Monday. He will be formally introduced to the media on Tuesday.

“I grew up wanting to be a Razorback and then a Razorback coach, and the four years I spent at Arkansas prepared me for this moment,” Neighbors said in a release. “It prepared me for my first job and it prepared me for the head coaching job at Washington four years ago. Now, it has come full circle and I’m back at Arkansas.”

Mike Neighbors-Arkansas-Arkansas Razorbacks-Arkansas women's basketball
Arkansas head women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors (Getty Images)

Neighbors takes over a team that finished in last place in the SEC this past season with just two conference wins. The Razorbacks lost four players from their preseason roster by the end of the year and also dealt with some fan and donor blowback following six players kneeling during the national anthem at an exhibition game.

“It was vitally important to our search committee and to me that we attract someone who is entrenched in the women’s game and someone who has demonstrated the ability to connect with our young women on and off the court,” athletic director Jeff Long said in the same release. “Mike Neighbors has spent his career teaching, coaching and mentoring young women dating back to his time as a high school coach in Arkansas.”

Perhaps not on purpose, but I read that as something of a veiled reference to former coach Jimmy Dykes, who was fired last month. Dykes was a men’s basketball analyst with no coaching experience when he was hired by Long in 2014.

The best so far

If the early parts of spring are boring, it’s partially because sometimes it’s spent by coaches establishing new players in the rotation.

Our Jason Kersey broke down the five players Bielema and the staff have been most impressed with so far:

  • FB Kendrick Jackson
  • WR La’Michael Pettway
  • OL Shane Clenin
  • RB Maleek Williams
  • LB Michael Taylor

Notice they’re all relative newcomers. Jackson has been around the longest — he’ll be a junior — but he’s gone from linebacker to fullback to linebacker and now back to fullback. He’s only just now establishing himself. Pettway is a sophomore who caught one pass last season. Williams and Clenin are freshmen.

Taylor is the wild card. He is largely expected to be a pass-rushing type of outside linebacker in Arkansas’ new 3-4 scheme. If he can fit the spot, that’s one less thing to worry about from a unit that was a massive worry in 2016.

Checking in at third

The first-ever SEC Country baseball power poll made its debut on Monday with the Razorbacks checking in as the third-best team in the conference.

sec-baseball-standings-arkansas
SEC West standings as of Monday, April 3, 2017

The poll, conducted by yours truly, doesn’t rank teams on where they’ll finish. It’s just a look at where they stand right now, on a particular moment on a particular day. Arkansas can potentially move even higher in the poll with a series win against LSU this weekend.

That’s what’s holding the Diamond Hogs back from being higher right now. The three teams they’ve played — Mississippi State, Missouri and Alabama — are a combined 12-14 in SEC play. Missouri and Alabama were picked to finish in the lower parts of their respective divisions. Beating LSU would make a statement.

Check out the entire poll and give your feedback, Stitch heads.

ICYMI

  • Speaking of the Diamond Hogs, coach Dave Van Horn previewed the weekend series against LSU at the Swatters Club get-together Monday. Our Trent Shadid was on hand.
  • Back on the football side, two Arkansas commits received invites to The Opening finals and Under Armour All-American game later this year.
  • OK, so this is fun: The Arkansas men’s and women’s track team is on a mission to find “The Fastest Kid in Fayetteville.” Coaches Lance Harter and Chris Bucknam are inviting children ages 6-12 to John McDonnell Invitational on Saturday, April 22 to run in a 100-meter dash competition. Prizes will be awarded to the fastest finisher in the 6-9 and the 10-12 age groups. The event is at 4 p.m. CT at John McDonnell Field.

Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas

Tremendous.

So, some morons in Jonesboro decided they were going to steal an ATM from a convenience store (ask those junkies on “Breaking Bad” how that worked out). To do so, they decided to crash into the store around 4 a.m. Saturday. A guy gets out of the vehicle and loads up the machine into his Chevy Suburban. But … and this is the best part …

On the drive out of there, the ATM falls out of the back of the vehicle. The burglars abandoned it and the car and got out of Dodge.

Again: tremendous.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has details.

Skip Breakfast? C’mon. It’s too important. Catch up with previous versions here.

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