FAYETTEVILLE – Alex Collins is, at least, the third best running back in the Southeastern Conference.

FAYETTEVILLE – Alex Collins is, at least, the third best running back in the Southeastern Conference.

It is not a farfetched claim. Almost no one thinks differently. The Arkansas junior running back has the third most rushing yards of any player in the league. And because of an injury to Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Collins is the next most likely, behind LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, to garner postseason superlatives.

But Collins also isn’t seen by many – save a couple – to be on the same stage as those two counterparts. While few would put him lower than that "third best" stake, even fewer would lift him anywhere above third as long as Fournette and Henry were healthy. While those two are the most recent favorites for the Heisman Trophy, Collins is on the periphery.

That may have bothered previous versions of Alex Collins. His quarterback, however, thinks he is a changed man.

Take for example last week against Ole Miss. His first 10 carries netted 42 yards. It wasn’t a meager output, but it was once that would have bothered Collins last year. That, more than any splitting of carries with then-starter Jonathan Williams, contributed to zero 100-yard rushing games in his final eight.

Instead, Saturday, he didn’t get flustered. There is Williams to provide a blow. It has forced, in a sense, Collins to mature. His 11th carry saw him rip a gain of 23 yards. And by the end, he’d gone through the Ole Miss defense for 108 total on 17 carries.

"I think his maturity level is off the charts from where it was a year ago. He knows those four and five yard gains are good. Those are good solid gains against defenses," Allen said. "He knows that even when he’s getting four and five yard carries, it’s going to open up the rest of the offense and he loves seeing our offense no matter if he’s getting the carries if we’re throwing it, he loves seeing us have success."

Collins ran for 100 yards or greater three times last season. Three times in the team’s first five games. He has run for 100 yards or greater six times in eight games in 2015. More than the sum of yards, Arkansas will need Collins to string together several of those four- and five-yard rushes against Fournette and LSU this weekend.

For the first time all season the LSU sophomore fell from the apex of the Heisman conversation. Alabama finally limited Fournette: 31 yards on 19 carries. It was similar to what the Arkansas defense kept the Tigers to last year in Fayetteville (36 yards on 32 carries).

Thing is, Fournette still leads the SEC in rushing yards and rushing yards per game by a large margin. Even after Saturday’s 31-yard effort, Fournette is averaging 173 yards each time out. Henry is next with 133. Collins follows those two at 119.

His coach intimates it could higher.

Bret Bielema has never said outright he was disappointed in Collins. He has used the words "p-ssed" and "frustrated." Collins has been late for practices, missed team events and plainly annoyed Bielema enough times with various issues – some made public by the coach, some not – Bielema has, several times, been outspoken about such peccadilloes.

Bielema truly believes Collins could be Fournette or Henry. And he’s going to do everything he can to make it happen.

"What I want to prepare Alex for whether it’s this year or next year or whenever it happens, I want him to have success in this sport long after Arkansas," Bielema said. "I just got to continue to press upon him, when that day comes I don’t want to have any regrets that I didn’t teach him along the way to get to where he gets to be."