FAYETTEVILLE – At Thursday’s wrap-up to SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Arkansas was predicted to finish far better in the SEC West than either of Bret Bielema’s previous Razorbacks teams.
The 225 voting media members in Hoover picked the Razorbacks to finish fourth in the SEC West with six picking Arkansas to win the West.
Inheriting in 2013 a 4-8, 2-6 SEC team that lost a large senior class from 2012, Bielema’s Razorbacks suffered a 3-9 overall/0-8 in the SEC campaign in 2013 but closed a 7-6, 2-6 for 2014, winning three of their last four games with SEC shutouts in Fayetteville over Top 25 LSU and Ole Miss teams and a 31-7 rout of Texas in the Advocare Texas Bowl in Houston.
The powerful balance in the SEC West is reflected in all seven teams receiving at least two first-place votes.
On the one-through-seven voting points system, Alabama, the defending SEC Overall and West champion, was picked to win the West with 1,405 points, including 92 first-place votes.
Auburn was picked second in the West 1,362 points, yet led in first first-place votes, 108, and overall was voted the slight favorite to win the SEC Championship game over the SEC East champion.
In order from third to seventh in the West came LSU, 870 points and 10 first-place votes; Arkansas, 821 points and six first-place votes; Ole Miss, 732 points and three first-place votes; Texas A&M, 628 points and four first-place votes; and Mississippi State, 482 points and two first-place points.
Georgia, 1,498 points and 166 first-place votes, was deemed a strong favorite to win the East with Tennessee, 1,231 points and 36 first-place votes, picked second.
Missouri, the East champion in both 2013 and 2014, was picked third with 1,196 points and 20 first-place votes.
From fourth through seventh, came South Carolina, 830 points and one first-place vote; Florida, 768 points and one first-place vote; Kentucky, 534 points and one first-place vote; and Vanderbilt, 243 points without a first-place vote.
Bielema and Razorbacks seniors Brandon Allen, Jonathan Williams and Keon Hatcher addressed Media Days Wednesday before the vote but with Arkansas receiving massive positive attention for its 2014 finish and preceding close but no cigars against Alabama and Mississippi State when each ranked No. 1.
Bielema said he appreciates the positive attention for a team that needed it experiencing hardship after hardship from the abrupt end of the Bobby Petrino era through the 2012 4-8 John L. Smith season and the 2013 struggles, but also asserted a 7-6 season is not to be wildly celebrated
“I don’t need to overstate to you guys I think it’s ridiculous the amount of publicity and excitement that we’re getting based off of 7-6,” Bielema said. “I get it because we were 3-9. So I understand the excitement. Because of what they’ve done on the field and in the classroom, there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of buzz. I don’t want that to go away. I mean, it’s absolutely awesome. But we’re a 7-6, team looking to improve. So we’ll just take every day for what it is and have fun with it. I don’t plan on going backwards, only forward.”
More Williams, Collins honors
Already on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, voted in December to college football’s outstanding player, Arkansas 1,000-yards rushing running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins were named to the watch list Thursday of the Doak Walker Award voted in December to the nation’s outstanding running back.
Williams, a senior three-year letterman from Allen, Texas, led Arkansas’ rushing in 2014 with 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns on 211 carries and caught 11 passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns. He netted 900 yards and four touchdowns on 150 carries in 2013 and as a 2012 freshman behind turned pro running backs Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo became the primary receiver out of the backfield threat netting 208 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches.
Collins, a junior two-year letterman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a two-time 1,000-yards rusher and the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year.
Collins netted 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on 204 carries in 2013 and in 2014 rushed 190 times for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns.
Arkansas has one Doak Walker winner, running back Darren McFadden in 2006 and 2007 while voted the Heisman Trophy runner-up both years.