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Spring Football: Bielema Era blooms at Arkansas


Photo: USA Today Sports

Spring Practice Opens: March 10
Spring Game: April 20

Few teams dropped as quickly as Arkansas did before the start of the 2012 season. regarded as a potential BCS Championship contender after a fine 2011 season and Cotton Bowl victory, Arkansas dropped like an anvil the moment head coach Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle. From there it was all down hill with a cover up, a rare spring firing and the scramble to bring in a head coach to just try and keep the ship afloat. Unfortunately for Arkansas there was not much to smile about with John L. Smith at the helm and Arkansas missed the postseason for the first time since 2008. To help turn things around Arkansas pulled away one of the top coaches from the Big Ten by hiring Bret Bielema in surprising fashion away from Wisconsin.

Will there be good days to be a Razorback in the future?

Arkansas opens spring practice on Sunday, so here is a rundown of what they look like heading in to Bielema's first spring in the south…

Stability Factor (1 = Chaos, 5 = Rock Solid): 3.3

Arkansas is bringing in a brand new coaching staff with the hiring of Bret Bielema and they lose a starting quarterback, two leading running backs, leading wide receiver and a handful of leading tacklers. But the program also gets a breath of fresh air after the stink of last season's nightmare. Bielema has a winning attitude that he brings from Wisconsin and that ultimately should get the program off on the right foot this spring.

Under the Microscope: Bret Bielema

After leading Wisconsin to three consecutive Big Ten championships Bielema looks to take over a program with lofty goals in one of the toughest divisions in football. Bielema is a good coach but now things should get a little bit more difficult in the SEC across the board. The pressure to win and do so quickly will be a bit heavier in the south than it was in the north. How does the northerner handle the daily grind in the south? How does he set the tone for bringing Arkansas back from a miserable 2012 on and off the field? Ultimately Bielema will be judged by what he does in the fall, but that work starts now.

Locked and Loaded: Wide Receiver

Arkansas loses Cobi Hamilton, who led the Razorbacks in receiving with 1,335 yards and five touchdowns, but the receivers should be in good shape for 2013. Mekale McKay had a fine freshman season with 317 yards and two touchdowns and junior Javontee Herndon added 304 yards and three touchdowns as well. Arkansas was third in the SEC last year in passing, which would suggest that the receivers are not all that bad. Is there one true go-to receiver on this year's roster? That is something to watch as the offense gels under a new coaching staff but overall it looks as though Arkansas should be in a good situation with their receivers.

Jockeying for Position: Running Back

Arkansas was dismal in the running game last season, averaging just 118.67 yards per game last season. There were 12 players who had a higher average than that around the nation, and perhaps the good news is one of them was a former player under Bielema (Montee Ball). While there ay be no Heisman contender in the Arkansas back field this season it should be expected that Bielema will try to focus on revamping the running game.

The good news is there is some fresh faces who should compete for some snaps this season, starting this spring with Jonathan Walker. As a freshman Walker was limited in play time but he did average 5.13 yards per rush. He is expected to lead the running game in spring, but Arkansas will add Alex Collins this summer after some recruiting drama earlier this spring.

Name to Know: Brandon Mitchell

It would not be a team coached by Bielema if quarterback was not a question that needs an answer. Bielema takes over a position that has young Brandon Allen coming off limited action as a freshman but unless Bielema looks to bring in a transfer quarterback again (just saying, Gunner Kiel is available), then look to see if Brandon Mitchell makes a case for making a full time position switch from receiver to quarterback. As mentioned above, Arkansas looks to be in solid form with the receiving game, which leaves an opportunity for Mitchell, who has appeared in 21 games under center at Arkansas.

Spring will be a success if…: The defense gets tough

Last year Arkansas allowed an average of 5.73 yards per play, third worst in the SEC. That would seem to suggest a few things about Arkansas: The defense was slow, weak and at times tiring. The Razorbacks also finished last in the SEC in turnovers gained, with just 12 for the entire season. In a physical conference like the SEC it looks as though Arkansas needs to step things up on defense and start to work on their physical approach to the game.

Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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