FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when asked about his team’s low-key preseason Monday.
There was no scandal to complicate things while they prepared for the season opener. There were no significant injuries to test depth. And now, with game week upon them, Wilson and the Hogs finally had their first opponent to look forward to.
“There weren’t any big stories to write during the fall camp other than the defense had some good scrimmages, which was exciting,” Wilson said. “Everybody settled in. I think we know what to expect. Everything’s business as usual here.”
It’s true. The drama has been pretty minimal the past month. But it hasn’t erased Arkansas’ unofficial title as the NCAA’s most intriguing team this season.
That will be clear tonight, when the first in a seven-part, season-long series called “College Football Confidential” airs at 6 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.
The network envisioned the possibilities of documenting No. 10 Arkansas as it moved past the Bobby Petrino scandal and transitioned to new coach John L. Smith. So a film crew was in town for a large portion of the preseason, getting an all-access look at the Razorbacks as they prepared for the 2012 season.
“It seems that the stories are better when the situations are complex,” said Emilie Deutsch, who is the network’s vice president of features and other programming. “So you have this great dichotomy going on in Arkansas with the amazing talent, Tyler Wilson returning, then the controversy on the other hand, and the way that this team is going to handle the controversy this year.
“We just thought it was such a rich story to tell. … It just seemed like the right time and the right school and the right season to do this.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long approved the project and, by late July, film crews were in Fayetteville preparing to document the Razorbacks as they got ready for training camp. Crews spent 11 days with the program and compiled 60 hours of footage, which will be trimmed into the one-hour special tonight.
They spent time in position meetings, on the practice field, and during team meetings. They followed the team to the movies one night as well, when Smith rewarded players for their work during preseason practices.
“I think you really noticed them a lot early and then after a while you didn’t really notice them that much,” said Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who wore a microphone during one portion of practice fore the special. “That was when practice was open, all of you guys were around. They were around. … But it was great for recruiting. The more exposure you can get for recruiting the better.”
It’s not the first time Arkansas has been the subject of an all-access special. A film crew was imbedded last year for an all-access look at the program for ESPN.
The special centered on Wilson and former offensive coordinator Garrick McGee and included the now memorable phrase “Turbo Buffalo,” which was the tongue-twisting play call the quarterback had trouble spitting out on the practice field.
Wilson believes that experience helped the Razorbacks avoid being camera shy with CBS around the program this season. He also said the amount of time cameras have been on the team the past month have made it seem like the norm.
“You get to kind of acclimate yourself to the cameras,” Wilson said. “Not that you try. But the team doesn’t feel weird all the time and can kind of act like themselves and not be gun shy or change the way they appear.”
Arkansas, which received its highest preseason ranking since 1989, carries title hopes after returning several key figures from last season’s 11-2 team. Petrino’s demise threatened those hopes in the offseason, but Arkansas regrouped under Smith and believes it is still capable of winning a championship this season.
Defensive end Trey Flowers said nothing has distracted the Razorbacks from working toward those goals. It has included the all-access camera crew.
“You don’t want to pay attention to the camera,” Flowers said. “You want to go hard regardless. We’re out there just trying to get better.
“Whatever they’re filming is whatever they film.”
Deutsch said cameras will be with the team at least one or two days a week throughout the season. The second episode, which is scheduled to air on Sept. 19, will center on Arkansas’ preparation for the Sept. 15 game against Alabama.
She said the goal throughout the season is capturing as much as possible with the Razorbacks. There are tentative plans to go on the road with the team later this season and, possibly, spending some time with parents of some players.
Deutsch said the first episode, though, is centered on preseason camp as Arkansas works through the grind and continued to move past the Petrino scandal.
There haven’t been big headlines this preseason, but it hasn’t diminished the intrigue surrounding the Razorbacks as they begin life without Petrino.
“I think the most impressive thing about this team is the way the players themselves stepped up in the wake of Petrino’s controversial actions,” Deutsch said. “Those types of controversies can pull teams apart. I think the opposite happened in this case and I think that’s going to be very evident in the piece.”
Where to find CBS Sports Network
CBS Sports Network is available across the country through local cable, video and telco providers and via satellite on DirecTV channel 613 and Dish Network channel 158. In Fayetteville, CBS Sports Network is available on Cox Cable channel 133 and 2133 (HD) and AT&T U-Verse channel 1643 (HD). For more information, including a full programming schedule and how to get CBS Sports Network, go to www.cbssportsnetwork.com.