The time for prophesizing and fantasizing is over.
One of the most anticipated football seasons in Arkansas history — one that has prompted "Groundhog Day" discussions on blogs and talk shows for months — now is taking real-world form.
UA quarterback Ryan Mallett’s arm is a regular part of discussion but, at least for awhile, his foot may be the most scrutinized and analyzed foot in state history. Many say his feats depend on da feet (or at least the left one that he broke).
The Razorbacks began practice Thursday.
The University of Central Arkansas Bears start preseason drills Sunday.
Both teams are on different spectrums of curiosity.
The excitement concerning the Razorbacks’ season is the most electric and captivating in preaseason I’ve witnessed since the 1978 campaign that followed the Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma. Those who have had a finger on the pulse longer than I claim (particularly when you factor in a high-profile quarterback) that you have to go back to Joe Ferguson in the early 1970s for a like comparison.
You’ll find few UA fans right now who realistically expect anything less than eight victories.
And that momentum will just build.
UCA is more of a mystery since this will be, overall, one of Clint Conque’s most inexperienced teams (particularly in NCAA Division I FCS). The only quarterback on campus with any degree of experience at UCA (Nathan Brown) is coaching them.
The excitement taking life in the UCA camp is from the release of the shackles. This is the first UCA team that will play as a full-fledged NCAA Division I member and can officially claim at Southland Confernce championship and advance to the NCAA playoffs.
No UCA team has had a bigger mountain to climb or a greater reward at the end.
Many Hog fans expect the Hogs to ride Mallett’s arm and leadership ability to at least a BCS bowl. Those from almost every perspective expect the offense to be really good, with the weapons to win a shootout.
But stout defenses — those that can take neutralize some of the best punches an opponent can produce — usually produce the highest degree of success in the SEC.
I’d pay attention to the progress of the Razorback linebackers and the kicking game.
The situation with UCA is more of a mystery because we don’t know when what appears to be a very good crop of young players will blossom. I think the young secondary, particularly if it has the ability to turn change field position and momentum, is a huge key. The Bears almost must produce more quick striking power while also being able to sustain drives without head-scratching penalties. My sense is they will do that.
The place-kicking situation for the Bears and the Hogs are at opposite ends. For UCA, Eddie Carmona is one of the best in school history. But the Bear coaches would just as soon not use him as much. They need more red-zone touchdowns than last year. At UA, it will be critical for Alex Tejada, or whoever, to consistently hit on field goals — and even extra points.
Naturally, the answers to most questions will be forged in August and September heat. It will take awhile to get a clear picture.
But things are moving from the intangible to the more tangible.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)