FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas won’t enter the 2013 season ranked in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll.
But the Razorbacks did earn one vote when it was released Thursday.
Arkansas, which is preparing for its first season under new coach Bret Bielema, was one of 28 teams outside the top 25 to receive votes in the preseason poll.
The USA Today poll panel consists of 62 head coaches who are randomly selected as voters. Bielema is one of seven SEC coaches voting in the poll this season, joining Alabama’s Nick Saban, LSU’s Les Miles, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Georgia’s Mark Richt, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
His team is not ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 2009, which comes as little surprise after last year’s 4-8 finish. But Bielema and the Razorbacks have openly welcomed the underdog role this offseason.
“We embrace it and we also allow it to give us a little fire,” Arkansas cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said last week. “That’s something, the predictions, everyone is right in the preseason. The thing we have to do is just go out and work.
“We try to take it step by step and day by day. We have to make sure we improve as a group, as a unit, me as a coach as well as the rest of the staff. And understand that we’ll prove people wrong just by going out and doing our jobs.”
Arkansas’ path will be challenging, though, if the top 25 poll is any indication.
The Razorbacks — who report for preseason camp Sunday and open practice Monday — play five teams ranked in the top 13 of the USA Today coaches’ poll.
All of the games are against Southeastern Conference opponents in Alabama (No. 1), Texas A&M (No. 6), South Carolina (No. 7), Florida (No. 10) and LSU (No. 13). Even more daunting, Arkansas will play four of them — Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama — in consecutive weeks between Sept. 28 to Oct. 19.
Alabama was the overwhelming pick for the top spot in the coaches’ poll, earning 58 of 62 first-place votes. The Crimson Tide is followed by Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Clemson, Louisville and Florida, respectively.
Five SEC teams are ranked in the top 10, while seven appear in the preseason coaches’ poll with LSU at No. 13 and Vanderbilt at No. 20.
Arkansas opens the season against Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 31 at 3 p.m.
“As a head coach, I know how to win games,” Bielema said last week. “I know how to have an expectation that what you see is real. The indicators that I got make me believe we have a chance to be a very good football team. Obviously, we haven’t played an SEC schedule, haven’t played one game in Fayetteville, Little Rock or anywhere else. I’m just excited to get to that point to see where we’re at.”