HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema dared the media to pick the Razorbacks to finish last in the SEC West last season.
He didn’t have to challenge anyone this week.
Arkansas was in a predictable place when the SEC released its preseason picks Thursday morning. The Razorbacks — who finished 0-8 in conference play in 2013 — were selected to finish last in the SEC West for the second straight year.
“Well, the expectation isn’t going to be any different if we’re picked last or we’re picked first,” Bielema said Wednesday. “Success for me as a head coach is very easy. It’s getting better every day. It’s not coach speak. It’s not all this whatever you want to call it. It’s reality. As a person, you hope to get better every day. Football is just a continuation of that. It can’t get any simpler than that.”
Arkansas received 351 points to finish last in the SEC West projection behind Alabama (1,915), Auburn (1,735), LSU (1,453), Ole Miss (1,069), Mississippi State (890) and Texas A&M (791). South Carolina (1,895) was predicted to win the SEC East ahead of Georgia (1,777), Florida (1,362), Missouri (1,263), Tennessee (893), Vanderbilt (619) and Kentucky (395).
There was one surprise Wednesday: Arkansas was one of eight teams that received at least one vote to win the SEC Championship.
Alabama is the media favorite to win the 2014 SEC championship, receiving 154 of 293 votes. Auburn (75), South Carolina (32), Georgia (19), LSU (9), Ole Miss (2), Arkansas (1) and Mississippi State (1) followed the Crimson Tide.
While unlikely, a worst-to-first finish wouldn’t be unheard of for Arkansas. Auburn went 0-8 in conference play in 2012 and won the SEC championship last season.
“You can look at them for inspiration,” Arkansas safety Alan Turner said Wednesday. “They turned it around real quick. They had a great year.”
Doak Walker candidates
Arkansas running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are among 53 players on the Doak Walker Award watch list, which was announced Wednesday.
It’s the second preseason honor for both backs, who were named to the Maxwell Award watch list earlier this month.
Collins and Williams will play a key role in Arkansas’ success this season after combining to rush for 1,926 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2013. Collins is the first SEC freshman to top the 100-yard mark in his first three games and finished with 1,026 yards. Williams rushed for 900 yards and scored a team-high six touchdowns.
Both backs will share playing time with sophomore Korliss Marshall this season.
“I think this year the diversity our running backs are going to be able to have, it’s not just going to be Alex on this run, J-Will on this run, Korliss on this run,” Bielema said Wednesday. “There’s going to be certain plays they’re going to be better off on, I’m sure, but I think the balance that we have from right side to left side and the ability that everybody has will have a huge effect on our game plan.”
Collins and Williams are among 11 SEC running backs on the Doak Walker Award watch list, joining Texas A&M’s Tra Carson and Trey Williams, South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Alabama’s Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, LSU’s Terrence Magee, Mississippi State’s Josh Robinson and Florida’s Kelvin Taylor.
Four Hogs on All-SEC team
Arkansas also had four players voted to the media’s All-SEC team this week, although none of them received first-team honors.
Collins, defensive end Trey Flowers and punter Sam Irwin-Hill earned second-team honors. Tight end Hunter Henry was a third-team pick.
Alabama had an SEC-high nine first-team selections, while Auburn had four.
Richt on Little Rock
Arkansas will play Georgia in Little Rock for the first time when the teams meet in War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 18.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he’s looking forward to the experience.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Richt said. “I don’t know enough about it. I know it’s a special place for Arkansas to play a game. I’m glad to experience one more thing.”
Georgia will become the 10th SEC team to play the Razorbacks in Little Rock since Arkansas joined the conference in 1992. Arkansas has not played Florida and the conference’s two newest programs — Missouri and Texas A&M — in War Memorial Stadium during that span.
Something unusual happened at Alabama last season. The Crimson Tide lost their final two games and didn’t win a national championship.
So coach Nick Saban said the program is trying to “re-establish its identity as a team” as they work to get back on track this season. Saban said Alabama also has to answer plenty of questions about his team, which he said is “unproven.”
The most noticeable change is at quarterback, where Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker are expected to compete for the starting job in preseason camp.
“I think you basically need to check your ego at the door,” Saban said. “Players, coaches, everybody in our organization. You know, really trust and believe in the things that have helped us be successful.”
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace found out about the media’s preseason All-SEC team on his way to SEC Media Days on Thursday. It wasn’t what he expected.
Wallace was selected as the conference’s third-team quarterback behind Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. Wallace expected Marshall to be the first-team pick, but didn’t think he’d be behind the in-state rival’s quarterback.
Wallace believes Ole Miss’ season-ending loss to the Bulldogs played a factor.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Wallace said. “It just adds another chip to my shoulder that I play with anyway. I’m ready for the year and I’m ready for that game.”
Saban probably wasn’t happy about the SEC predictions, either.
The media has had a history of missing on its preseason selection of the conference champion. Only four times in the past 22 years has the preseason favorite won.
Saban — whose team is favored to win this season — took note of it Thursday.
“Every year that we’ve been fortunate enough to win the championship, you picked somebody else,” Saban said. “So just to let you know. … We’re evaluating you.”
Miles No. 1
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze revealed his 15-year-old daughter, Ragan, keeps a ranking of the conference coaches. LSU’s Les Miles holds the top spot.
“If you’re at any of our games and viewing her an hour before game time, she’s at midfield trying to find the other head coach,” Freeze said. “That’s how into this football season she is. … No. 1 in her book is Coach Miles. In Baton Rouge, he spent 10 minutes with her talking. Then last year when they came to our place, she was out there without me talking to him. To her, that’s her favorite.”
Freeze has plenty of respect for Miles, too. He credited Miles and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier for being “tremendous to me” his first two years in the SEC.
The conference announced Thursday that 1,267 media members were credentialed for 2014 SEC Media Days. It was the fourth straight year the event was attended by more than 1,000 credentialed media members.
This week’s attendance topped last year’s total of 1,239 credentials.