McCollum's Column: UA fans' attitude has changed

MARC F. HENNING ARKANSAS NEWS BUREAU PHOTO Arkansas wide receiver Javontee Herndon hauls in a 49-yard touchdown pass in front of Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Cedrick Tillman during the second quarter of the Razorbacks' game Aug. 31, against the Ragin' Cajuns at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Within a year, the outlook has gone from stormy to partly cloudy with a few rays of sun.

And there is further evidence that this is a honeymoon year for Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and his staff.

Last year in a heavy storm, Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel ravaged the Hogs and their dysfunctional interim staff with a 55-17 victory that was a thorough licking.

It was raining last weekend in Fayetteville, but Razorback fans left the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in a much sunnier mood after a 45-33 defeat in a game that was not decided until the Aggies grinded the Hogs down in the fourth quarter. Manziel was spectacular but he didn’t torch the turf.

The byproduct of the loss was hope, at least a glimmer.

Many expected a blowout. This was a highly competitive game.

And even Bielema’s big crash, one that went viral after he slipped on his rear when walking to the stadium with his fancy “Beat” headphones, was considered by many a cool touch.

What energized many fans was Brandon Allen returned from a shoulder injury and made several sharp throws as the Razorbacks matched the Aggies big play for big play for the longest. More important, he proved himself as a leader and he obviously had a psychological effect on how the Hogs played.

Several freshmen, including running back Alex Collins and offensive linemen Dean Kirkland and Dan Skipper, are becoming capable frontline players. And Korliss Marshall of Osceola, who initially committed to UCA, showed up as a rising impact player.

A disclaimer: The Hogs still have some major gaps at receiver, linebacker and defensive backs and you won’t find many close observers of the program who will predict they can get to six victories and a bowl.

However, the incline doesn’t seem as steep, particularly if the sophomores and freshmen continue to improve and Bielema and his staff can hold things together in the face of a rugged schedule.

Florida, for example, has had problems on offense and has lost its first-team quarterback. Saturday’s game figures to be something like 24-14, 24-17, 28-24 Gators. The Razorbacks should be in it until the end.

And when one looks at Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, what happens in late October and November depends on which team remains intact and focused.

And place-kicker Zach Hocker, one of the nation’s best, gives the Razorbacks a chance if things go down to the wire.

What we have seen so far should keep Razorback fans interested and involved well into the initial skirmishes of basketball season.

That would be progress.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)

 

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