Arkansas in SEC mix, stacked on rushing, defensive backfield

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas was last in this position – coming off a season of nine wins or more – 10 years ago. Except this offseason, there was no program-altering motorcycle crash.

Sam Pittman – the antithesis, personality-wise, to coach Bobby Petrino, whose wreck in April 2012 turned into a scandal that cost him his job – led Arkansas to a 9-4 record last season, capping it with the Razorbacks’ first New Year’s Day bowl since 2000 and a win over Penn State.

The previous four years saw Arkansas win between two and four games in a dismal stretch that cost the program fans, attention and respect.

The third-year coach gets a chance at building momentum with his 19th-ranked Razorbacks. He has three returning players who ran for more 600 yards last season, including a potential All-SEC quarterback in junior KJ Jefferson. He has four starters back on the offensive line and a pair of potential All-Americans in linebacker Bumper Pool and safety Jalen Catalon.

Pittman and the Hogs also have a big challenge right away: The season opener is No. 23 Cincinnati at home on Sept. 3 in an intriguing Top 25 clash.


Pittman said in the offseason that Jefferson was motivated by an online publication, which named him the 14th-best quarterback in the 14-team league ahead of the 2021 season. Many expected Jefferson to be named to a preseason All-SEC squad after throwing for more than 2,600 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions, but no such designation came.


Jefferson will have to find a new favorite target after wide receiver Treylon Burks was taken in the first round of the NFL draft by Tennessee. He had 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and rewrote Arkansas’ receiving record books in his three seasons.

“Losing Treylon Burks, I don’t know you replace a guy one for one,” Pittman said. “I don’t think you can there. We’re going to have to do it by committee.”

Enter Jadon Haselwood, an Oklahoma transfer who led the Sooners with six receiving touchdowns in 2021.


Jefferson threw for 2,676 yards and 21 scores last year, but it was his team-high 664 yards rushing and six touchdown runs that helped most.

Also returning: Dominique Johnson, who had 575 yards and seven touchdowns last year; Rocket Sanders, who had 578 yards and five touchdowns; and A.J. Green, a change-of-pace back who ran for 227 yards and a touchdown.


The strength of Arkansas’ defense lies in the defensive backfield. Catalon, the safety who was an All-American as a freshman two seasons ago, is back after being knocked out halfway through last season with a shoulder injury.

LSU transfer Dwight McGlothern and Georgia transfer Latavious Brini join returnees Hudson Clark, Malik Chavis, Myles Slusher, Simeon Blair and LaDarrius Bishop to give Arkansas one of the most experienced defensive backfields in the country.


On top of the SEC slate – which has Arkansas hosting LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss – the Razorbacks will play three bowl teams from last season: Cincinnati and Liberty in Fayetteville, and at BYU.

Arkansas will also welcome FCS team Missouri State on Sept. 17. The Bears went 8-4 last year and are coached by Petrino.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.