Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly Arkansas sports mailbag with reporter Eric W. Bolin. In this edition, we discuss why any coach would want to run things at Arkansas, how good the team will be in 2018 and we get into Diamond Hogs pitching questions.
Is Arkansas attractive, even?
Aside from the stadium expansion, how would a great coach be attracted to Arkansas? What makes the job worth it? – Ron Miller
That’s the $64,000 question. Personally, I don’t think it’s a great job. But I’m not an SEC guy in my blood. I’d rather be at Nebraska, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Miami (Fla.), Oregon, Oklahoma State and several more. If I were a coach, I mean.
That said, don’t underestimate the appeal of the SEC. Coaches, in the past, have wanted to go to the SEC because of their own brass. It’s the best conference in the country – or, was. Guys have self confidence enough they want to come prove it to themselves they can win here. The problem is too many guys have failed; the chasm between Alabama and everyone else has grown. Accordingly, the league is trending down and I think that will continue. Not that it will get worse, but I think this is going to be more on-course for what the SEC is going to be in the next 10 years or so.
Still, as long as there is TV money, coaches will want to go and players will want to play.
Bret Bielema knows
What’re the odds of Bret seeing the writing on the wall, and leaving on his own at the season’s end? – Austin Foster
Very strong. I said last November, after the Missouri game and before the bowl, I thought 2017 might be Bielema’s last year by his own volition. And that’s when I thought this year’s team would still have Rawleigh Williams III and be closer to 7-5 than 5-7.
Bielema is a smart guy. He’s genuine, too. The stress may not be worth it to him. It wouldn’t be to me.
Assistants for the win
Which assistant coach adds the most value to the program? – James Armstrong
May be the most intriguing question of the day. Thanks, James.
What makes it interesting is you wonder how many would stay on with a regime change. A new coach wouldn’t take the Arkansas job assuming he’s keeping all his assistants. He may want some, but others they may to go. It’s up to personalities and connections.
Paul Rhoads is the easy answer. He has the most experienced with high-profile jobs. Next, I’d go Michael Smith, the wide receivers coach. He has coached in power conference football for a while and his units, other than one season, have been good. Supposedly, teams try to steal him every offseason.
But who stays and who goes, if something were to change – or, heck, even if Bielema were to stay – remains up in the air.
Looking to next year
With the small class, and hardly any impact names in it, are we going to be worse next year? Like watch out for Colorado St.? – Joshua Barnhardt
My SEC Country Arkansas colleague Trent Shadid thinks junior college defensive lineman Emmit Gooden is an impact guy. Arkansas needs him to be, too, because its defensive line lacks for that outside McTelvin Agim.
Arkansas has painted itself into a corner by swinging and missing with so many recruits. I’m of the opinion next year only gets slightly better than this season. It’s hard to envision another year Arkansas gets its doors blown off as often as it has this year, but right now, I don’t see much more than a 5-7 team in 2018.
Battle Line Rivalry
Will the Missouri rivalry ever feel big or is it just gonna feel like a normal game – Jordan Harding
The matchup is trending up. Arkansas and Missouri forcing it, putting a name on it and making a trophy for it was silly. But the truth is, Arkansas and Missouri have a lot in common. More than either want to admit, even. With time, close games and some drama, it can build to a legitimate rivalry.
Can J-red come back next year or did he play too much? Or would he even want to come back? – Wyatt Holgrewe
Answering the first question first, he almost certainly would get a medical redshirt, meaning he could return in 2018. The second question is more pressing. Arkansas doesn’t normally make injured players available for interviews, so we have not been able to glean Cornelius’ interest in returning. From an outside perspective, it would make sense for him to return. He isn’t a sure-fire NFL receiver but with a breakout final college season, he could turn himself into a potential draft choice.
Diamond Hogs rotation
How do you see the weekend rotation shaking out for the Arkansas baseball team? Also, any favorites to close games this season? – Noah Pittman
Let’s take a quick look at those returning on the pitching staff. Kacey Murphy, Matt Cronin and Weston Rogers are the left-handers. Blaine Knight, Isaiah Campbell, Keaton McKinney, Jake Reindl and Barrett Loseke are the righties. More arms exist who have played in the past – Angus Denton, Anthony Dahl, Cody Scroggins are among them – but they have limited experience.
Knight is a lock. He is the team’s ace. Campbell was a lock last year until an arm injury kept him out most of the season. Murphy was a mid-week guy. Loseke has some experience. McKinney was the team’s best starter the season the Diamond Hogs went to the College World Series, but injuries have derailed his status.
If it feels like I’m beating about the bush, it’s because I am. My guess right now: Knight, Campbell, Murphy.