GENERAL: Most ingredients seem to be in place for the University of Central Arkansas Bears to make a strong run at a Southland Conference title and the postseason — 17 seniors, most of whom have started; a dynamic group of transfers; a solid group of redshirts and newcomers; more depth than ever; more speed on defense and a season quarterback.
Coach Clint Conque and his staff are grooming this team for the long haul.
"We’ve had one of the most demanding and physical preseason camps we’ve ever had," said the coach who is entering his 12th season. "We have to be mentally tough and physically for the schedule we face and to accomplish the goals we have. We could be a very good team, but there are no entitlements in the Southland Conference."
Most of the supporters are talking about another historic matchup with Arkansas State on Sept. 24.
Nathan Dick, in his third year in the UCA system after transferring from the University of Arkansas, begins the season as the most experienced quarterback in the Southland Conference, passing for 2,589 yards last season.
He has plenty of support.
The receiving corps, bolstered by Jesse Grandy, a transfer from Ole Miss, Al Lasker (a transfer from Air Force), junior Dominique Croom, who has started since his freshman season, Conway senior Isaiah Jackson, veterans Derrick Steele, T.J. Adams, Clay Murphy and Joe Harris and freshman Dezmin Lewis, form a deep group with big-play ability.
Jackie Hinton, who has had a outstanding spring and fall, could be one of the top running backs in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, and the Bears have a good rotation in veterans Terence Bobo, Anthony Blackmon and Marcel Threat.
An offensive line that is two-deep in experience is led by tackles Matt Dickerson and Brad Jackel, guards Joe Lehocky and Corey Howard plus Dominque Allen, Logan Roubique, Cole Carruthers and promising freshman C.J. Simon.
It has a chance to be possibly the most balanced offense UCA has had.
The middle is solid and potentially dominant with Larry Duvall, Justin Williams and Matt Hornbuckle and veterans Jermaine Lett, Trey Lippe, Markeith Gaines and transfers Joe Carmical and Devin Hawkins on the flanks give the Bears a lot of strength and power at the point of attack.
The Bears seem to have one of their deepest and best linebacking corps in recent years in Seth Allison, Frank Newsome, Jesse So,s. Jacob Bundrick, Justin Heard and Lamar Moore and newcomer Zach Bush.
Newcomers Bryce French, Josh Jones, Willie Matthews and Zach Bush have helped solidify a secondary that has been plagued with some early season injuries and players such as Desmond Wilcox, Dominque Brown, Karl Brady and Jerrel McKnight recovering from injuries. Two Marcuses, Dumas and Peters, appear solid at corner and Jestin Love, who was also hampered by a nagging injury in camp, projects to be one of the best safeties in the SLC.
The Bears have led the conference in scoring defense the last three seasons and were one of the top teams in the nation last year in turnover margin. There is no indication that stinginess will change this year.
An entirely new group with handle the kicking in UA transfer placekicker Eddie Carmara, punter Kevin Buford and deep snappers Parker Carpenter and Kirby O’Meara. Grandy, who was one of the nation’s leaders in returns while playing for Ole Miss last season, joins Jackson, one of the best return specialists in UCA history, in giving the Bears as strong a dynamic there in years.
CAUSES FOR CONCERN
The kicking game is unproven. The Bears face a brutal September slate of road games at Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State and Arkansas State, then return home to play two-time defending conference champion Stephen F. Austin.