As Northwest Arkansas continues to see cases of Covid-19 rising at alarming rates, the preparation for the college football season continues to move forward.
The NCAA on Thursday rubber stamped the plan for college football teams to begin on-the-field preparations for the season in July, essentially to make up for the loss of spring practice when the coronavirus shut down all of sports in mid March.
Squads will get an extra two weeks of unpadded walk-through practices, relegated to 20 hours a week with the players getting at least two days off. Actual practices will be able to begin 29 days before the kickoff of their season opener. For Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks, that date is Aug. 7 although Arkansas hasn’t yet announced when it will start practices.
The extra two weeks of work is essential just to get the athletes moving like football players again, but in no way can it make up for the 15 padded practices that were lost in the spring, especially for a team with an almost entirely new coaching staff.
You can have all the Zoom meetings and virtual chalk talks you want, but nothing replaces strapping on the pads, putting hands in the dirt, and actually physically practicing the game like is done in the spring.
Something is better than nothing, and no doubt Pittman and his experienced staff are working together to formulate a plan that will maximize the time they will be able to spend with their players in July and August in preparation for the season which kicks off Sept. 5 against Nevada in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The coaching staffs that make the best use of that time are going to have a distinct advantage this fall. Don’t expect for Pittman or any members of his staff to make excuses, but they are playing from behind before the season ever starts.
In many ways, teams are developed from January through August, and the coronavirus robbed a huge chunk of that time from the Razorbacks and all other teams. Teams not in the midst of a coaching change can fall back on previous years, but there is nothing about the last two seasons in which the Hogs were 4-20 that Pittman wants his current Hogs to fall back on.
If only we all could erase the bad memories of the 2018 and 19 seasons from the collective Razorback mind.
Some throw Bret Bielema’s tenure as coach in there, too, which is their prerogative. Don’t get me wrong, Bielema in no way maximized the program’s potential in his five seasons. His best teams should have won more than they did, but even his first season wasn’t nearly as bad the last two seasons of Razorback football under Chad Morris.
Fortunately, Morris left more talent behind than was evident from the outcome of the last two seasons. Earlier this year, Pittman said there was no reason Arkansas should have just won four games over the last two years based on the talent on campus. It did my heart good to hear that, and it confirmed what many other Hog fans thought when looking over the Razorbacks’ roster.
What that means for the upcoming season, I’m not sure?
This will be as unique a season as has ever been played in college football because of the virus. Just like none of us have a road map of navigating what has happened with our culture, society, and economy the last few months, no coach has a handbook on coaching during a pandemic.
We’re going to just have to see where it goes, but for the Arkansas Razorbacks, it can’t be as bad as it was the last two years.