SEC MEDIA DAYS NOTEBOOK: Razorbacks still aim for national title

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Soap operas have long been a part of day-time television, and that’s how John L. Smith kept up with the developing saga regarding the high-profile football coach he would soon replace.
Smith, a three-year member of Bobby Petrino’s staff at Arkansas, had just taken the job at FCS member Weber State, his alma mater. He would go to work during the day, then come home and get reports on the Petrino situation from his wife.
Arkansas fired its very successful coach after his motorcycle crash revealed an inappropriate relationship with a female football staff member.
“I would go to work daily, and my wife would give me more of the updates on what was taking place as I would come home in the evening,” Smith said. “She would update me on the situation.”
Upon his hiring in April, Smith’s immediate message was to say that no individual person is bigger than Arkansas football.
“This is one thing we’re going to reiterate that this is a program. This is not about somebody leaving or somebody coming,” Smith said. “We all have to relish our position as being part of this program.”
Quarterback Tyler Wilson relishes his part. He stood up and told his teammates that when players were told of Petrino’s firing and before Smith was hired. He really sees no other choice.
“You can curl up and feel sorry for yourself or you can lead these guys,” Wilson said.
Arkansas was expected to be a top-10 program before Petrino’s departure. Smith made it clear he’s still aiming high.
“We have one goal, and we’re not bashful about reiterating that goal,” Smith said. “Our goal is to be a national championship football team and that’s what we want to get done..”
Smith has only a 10-month contract while Arkansas officials sort out what they want to do with their coaching position long-term. In recruiting, he tells prospects they need to commit to a school and not an individual. Smith responded emphatically when a questioner asked if he hopes to be the Arkansas coach beyond the 2012 season:
“Well certainly. Do I look stupid?”
Rules changes for 2012
Coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw addressed media and outlined the rules changes for the coming season.
Kickoff – With hopes of making the play safer, the kickoff line has moved from the 30 to the 35. The goal is to create more touchbacks. There will be incentive to take a touchback in that the ball now goes out to the 25, not the 20.
On-side kicks – If a kicker drives the ball straight into the ground, one big hop, the receiver has protection to catch the ball. Under the old rule, the ball was live and the receiver was not awarded protection.
Helmets coming off during play – If a helmet comes off the player has to leave the game for one play. If the helmet comes off and the players continues to participate in the play, it’s a 15-yard penalty.
Protection for punt receiver – The receiver now has shoulder width and one yard in front of him as protected space. No defender can penetrate that space until the receiver has touched the ball. The goal is for players to break down before they make contact with the receiver.
Punter protector shield – It’s a foul to try to leap over the single back, the personal protector of the punter, and try to block a punt. A 15-yard penalty results if rushers try to leap over the punter’s personal protector.
Blocking below the waist – Blockers cannot peel back toward their own goalline to create more momentum or advantage and restricted players, like receivers, cannot block inside the tackle box.
Speaking up for new guys
Missouri and Texas A&M are coming into the SEC with a lot of questions about how they will handled the perceived upgrade in competition.
Florida’s Will Muschamp and Auburn’s Gene Chizik say they’ll be quite fine.
Chizik gave a strong response to a question about Missouri during his time at the podium.
“Gary Pinkel is one of the best coaches in the country if you look at what he did in turning Missouri around. Missouri and Texas A&M aren’t coming into the SEC with their hat in their hand saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be here,’” he said.
Muschamp had high praise for first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, and his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, a Texas Tech quarterback under Mike Leach.
“You look at what Kevin and Kliff did at Houston. They put up video game numbers as far as offense is concerned,” Muschamp said. “They do a great job of spreading the field in a different manner. They give you the illusion that it’s a throwing offense. Moving to Texas A&M I won’t see anything different, and they’ll have a great recruiting base in College Station.”
Miles moves on
LSU coach Les Miles talked about softball games and other pursuits of summer. He says he’s watched the replay of the BCS championship game – and his previously unbeaten Tigers’ 21-0 loss to Alabama – only “a couple of times.”
Miles fielded two questions about Alabama’s lopsided championship win but didn’t dive into the topic with many specifics.
“Our team had a great year. We played 13 straight very good, quality opponents and won. We didn’t play our best in the last one. We understand that. It’s about us. There are some things we need to fix, and our team sees that,” Miles said.
LSU won a much closer game against Alabama, 9-6 in overtime last November in Tuscaloosa, dealing the Crimson Tide its only loss.
parrish.alford@journalinc.com