Last season: 8-5 (5-3 Southeastern Conference)
Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana Tech (4 p.m. on SEC Network)
Fun fact: Arkansas went 3-1 against Alabama during the Mike DuBose era and the Mike Shula era. The Razorbacks are 0-9 against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
COMING TUESDAY: Auburn
Jeremy Sprinkle isn't going to waste his time.
The Arkansas senior is pushing to be the next great tight end for the Razorbacks, following in the footsteps of Hunter Henry, but he is not trying to devise a more memorable play than the one Henry had last November at Ole Miss.
With Arkansas facing fourth-and-25 in overtime, Henry caught a 15-yard pass from Brandon Allen before blindly heaving the ball back to his offensive linemen and tailback Alex Collins, who scooped up the ball and raced for a first down.
Arkansas was trailing 52-45 but used that miraculous moment to pull off a 53-52 stunner.
"I don't think anything can top that one," Sprinkle said last week at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "I've probably watched it about 50 times. It's a once-in-a-lifetime play, and it never gets old."
Sprinkle does plan to add to what has become a position of prestige in Fayetteville.
Before Henry, there was D.J. Williams. Before Williams, there was Jason Peters. Before Peters, there was Kirk Botkin. Each of those tight ends earned first-team all-conference honors, and the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Sprinkle could join that list after a junior season in which he made 27 catches for 389 yards and six touchdowns.
His six scores were more than any other league tight end, including Henry.
"We've had two Mackey Award winners here," Sprinkle said, referring to Henry last year and Williams in 2010 being named the nation's top tight end in college football. "People just love coming here. They want to get the exposure, and they know that Arkansas is going to use them.
"I feel like I kind of have big shoes to fill, but I have to be the best Jeremy Sprinkle that I can be."
All six of Sprinkle's scores a year ago occurred in the last seven games, including a three-touchdown performance in a 51-50 loss to Mississippi State. He capped his breakout junior season with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown in the 45-23 thumping of Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl.
"When he got there, he was 6-6 and 205 pounds," fourth-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said. "If he turned sideways, you couldn't see him. He was skinny as skinny gets. Now he's a 6-6, 250-pound man that's ready to make his mark in the SEC and in this country.
"He can be a Mackey Award winner. He's got that much talent, and we've had a lot of really good tight ends."
Sprinkle will catch passes this year from Austin Allen, who is Brandon's younger brother and one of six new offensive starters. Receiver Drew Morgan, who had 63 receptions for 843 yards and 10 touchdowns, is back for his senior season, as is towering 6-10, 322-pound tackle Dan Skipper.
Arkansas has nine starters back defensively, though there were no Hogs defenders selected on the first or second teams last week by the league media. The media also picked the Razorbacks to finish fifth in the SEC West behind Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
The Razorbacks have upped their season victory total from three to seven to eight under Bielema, but they do have a daunting schedule that not only includes the rugged West but Florida as their rotating foe from the East and an early nonconference trip to TCU.
"I feel like the media always portrays us as being under the radar," Sprinkle said. "You just have to see where you are at the end of the year. You obviously have your expectations before the season, and you try to go above and beyond those."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.