HOOVER, Ala. — Four months ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks were being viewed as national championship contenders under coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino is no longer in charge after misleading university officials in early April about his inappropriate relationship with a 25-year-old athletic department employee. Picking up the pieces has been John L. Smith, a former Razorbacks assistant who left Fayetteville after last season to take over at Weber State before returning.
"This is a program, and this is not about somebody leaving or somebody coming," Smith said Wednesday at SEC media days. "We're all a part of it, as players, as coaches, as fans and as a student body, and we all have to relish our position as being part of this program.
"We have one goal, and we're not bashful about reiterating that goal. That goal is to win in Miami."
Smith signed a 10-month contract for $850,000 in late April, and he insists the brevity of the pact will not add any pressure. Players believe it won't be a distraction, either.
"You have to be like a duck and let that water roll off your back," Smith said. "As coaches, we put pressure on ourselves."
Said quarterback Tyler Wilson: "Winning takes care of itself. As players, we're not aware of all the contract stuff."
Ending the drought
Kentucky senior center Matt Smith celebrated last November's 10-7 upset of Tennessee with the rest of his teammates at Commonwealth Stadium, but he has appreciated that win just as much in the months since. The Wildcats had not defeated the Volunteers since 1984, resulting in a drought that lasted 26 seasons.
"I've been a Kentucky fan all my life, and growing up I had never seen Kentucky beat Tennessee," Smith said. "My parents and family friends told me how much it meant to them when Kentucky used to beat Tennessee, and you don't realize how much it means to our program and to our entire state until it happens. I'm just really glad I was a part of it."
Most SEC teams avoid road games against schools from Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference, but Mississippi State will visit Troy this year after opening last season with a win at Memphis.
"I try to play nonconference games within our region as much as possible," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "For our young men, their families can watch them play without having to buy plane tickets, and our fan base can come watch our team play. With skyrocketing budgets, how do you handle it?
"We schedule a nonconference game that is not going to cost us millions of dollars to get on a plane."
Keeping it put
Florida second-year coach and former Georgia safety Will Muschamp likes Jacksonville hosting the game between the Gators and Bulldogs and wants to keep it there.
The Gators trail the series by seven or eight games, depending on the records of the schools, but have won 18 of the 22 meetings since 1990. Georgia coach Mark Richt has expressed a desire to rotate the game to campus sites and even to Atlanta, but he now stays quiet on the subject.
"Coming over the St. John's River, as a competitor, if that doesn't get your blood boiling, there is something wrong with you," Muschamp said. "There is a tradition and a history of the game there. Coach [Vince] Dooley never complained about it being there."
The game is contracted in Jacksonville through 2016.
Odds and ends
Former Auburn quarterback and Tennessee assistant Pat Washington is in his first season as Kentucky's receivers coach and passing-game coordinator. ... SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said a record nine new officials will be added this season. They will be blended into the eight existing crews to give the league nine crews.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...