Burning Questions: UCA

Ole Miss opens its season against Central Arkansas Sept. 1. To preview, contributing writer Bennett Hipp talks with David McCollum, who covers the Bears for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark.

Last season, UCA was led by quarterback Nathan Dick, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. Dick is gone now. Who is next in line? Did a quarterback emerge in spring practices?

"I guess the major storyline would be they're in the process of finding a new quarterback. Their two-year starter, Nathan Dick, who is a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys now, had an outstanding season last year. That was one of the major questions going into the spring. The big story out of the spring was the emergence of Wynrick Smothers, who was the quarterback that followed Jordan Jefferson in high school. He's a very athletic quarterback; got one of the best arms they've had ever.

"The question about him is he's never completed a season. He's going to be a junior. He emerged as a leader and took over the team (in the spring). He's a very impressive, young quarterback with a lot of athletic ability and a great arm."

Let's assume Smothers is the guy at quarterback. Will the offense, which was a pass-happy offense in 2011-12, change much, if at all, this season? Smothers can run a little bit. Will UCA be more balanced?

"Actually, they've been trying over the course of the last few years to become more of a balanced offense. They've got four pretty good running backs. They've kind of made a commitment to run the ball better and use some of these backs with athletic ability on the outside. (Dick) was not a fast quarterback, so they were limited in what they could do with him.

Jesse Grandy
Associated Press

"Quite honestly, they had some injuries and really didn't get the run game going last year. But that's their attention. Both Walker and Smothers are going to play."

A player of interest for Ole Miss fans is former Ole Miss wide receiver Jesse Grandy. How is he coming along, and what are the expectations for him this season?

"Jesse Grandy, who started his career at Ole Miss, he's really now become a quality wide receiver for them. He's a dynamic player. The coaches say he's hard to tackle in a phone booth. He's got those moves you can't coach or teach. I think he's probably another big story because he was just learning a new offense last year. This year, he's really adapted to that and will be an explosive player for them."

The big loss defensively was Frank Newsome, the linebacker, who had 86 tackles last year. I know he signed a NFL free agent deal, as well. What are the coaches doing to replace him, and who is stepping up to become the leader of the defense with Newsome now gone to the NFL?

"One of the pleasant surprises on defense was Justin Heard, who was an outside linebacker last year. He was moved to the middle and, really, they haven't missed a beat. He may even be a more athletic player and have more mobility than Frank had. And then, of course, their stingiest linebacker is a guy who walked on there in Seth Allison, who's already graduated. He's one of those smart players who is never in the wrong place. He doesn't have the athletic ability of some, but he makes up for it with his intelligence. And then they have some young ones coming up. So, what they thought was a weakness or a question mark, they feel confident can be a strength this year. Now, whether they can stop Ole Miss is another question."

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