Pearls was on momentary hiatus for a tick, but the summer didn’t offer much racket from the Hill anyway. Trust me — had the opportunity availed itself, I would’ve emerged from hibernation to mouth off.
Alas, the baseball team meekly crumbled under the weight of enormous preseason hype, the basketball program kept up its seeming state of disarray, and SEC Media Days mostly offered us extraterritorial amusement in the form of Johnny Manziel explaining away an offseason replete with Kardashianesque attention whoring.
Bret Bielema enters his first summer as head coach of the Hogs holding hard and fast to the same mantra that has so far been symbolic of his short tenure: He wants to build a winner, and turn a deaf ear to pundits who are more or less unconvinced that he can pull the trick. The Hogs aren’t making ripples this year because, well, projections for 2013 are roughly as modest as they were for Bobby Petrino in 2008, Houston Nutt in 1998, Danny Ford in 1993, etc. Some may contend that even Petrino had more talent on campus when his debut season began, because Ryan Mallett was serving out the obligatory one-year transfer season on ice and a cadre of talented receivers had jumped onboard to make Casey Dick appear useful.
First-year Razorback bosses haven’t historically come onto the scene with the albatross of expectation around their necks. Ironically, Nutt delivered far better than any of the others in Year One, benefiting substantially from the SEC West being in its worst overall shape since the division format was hatched. How often do you get the chance to pummel LSU, Alabama and Auburn all in the same season, after all? Those days are a bygone anomaly.
Bielema obviously won’t have the luxury of coaching against the likes of Gerry DiNardo and Terry Bowden. But he is shepherding an effort to ensure that future seasons do generate more prolific buzz. The one area where the Hogs have made waves is a positive one: with a couple of minor exceptions, the news from the Broyles Athletic Complex in recent weeks hasn’t been about suspensions or defections, but about commitments to upcoming classes. The caliber of player that Bielema is attracting is inarguably superior to those who wanted to be a cog in the Petrino machine; moreover, players who arrived two or three seasons ago are doing what you would expect, rededicating themselves after feeling undoubtedly run aground last fall.
It’s for this reason, not wanton homerism, that I cannot jump on the popular bandwagon that suggests Arkansas is due for a deep, season-long bruise in 2013. There will be a fully-realized season preview coming in two weeks but let’s just say for now that I am a bigger believer in the short-term than most. It’s a function of two things: (1) a relatively soft early schedule that, for a change, keeps Bama at bay until well into the latter half, and (2) a reasonably competent amount of skill on both lines, some of which is primed to live up to high advance billing for the first time.
Bielema’s insistence on being coy about 2013 isn’t without purpose. He elects to tweet and banter to an arguably cavalier degree, but he knows exactly what he has in his locker room. And he isn’t going to engage in puffery. His competitive streak is miles wide, and he feels his team can be a contender, within reason, much sooner than most others think. We’ll assess how accurate that might be in upcoming editions.