NWADG College Football


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30 NWA COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW | 8.29.2021 ELI LEDERMAN ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE Even on a University of Central Arkansas roster returning 20 starters in 2021, Bears quarterback Breylin Smith carries experience that stands out. This fall represents the Conway native's sixth season with the program, and 2021 marks his fourth as the program's starter. Over Smith's previous three seasons, he has completed 62.2% of his passes for 6,594 yards and 57 touchdowns. He also amassed 16 wins in 25 starts. With Smith under center, UCA has a tested leader running its offense. "He's been here," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "He's a veteran. He's seen a lot of football. He's had a lot of success. And he's going to go down as one of the most elite passers and touchdown quarterbacks in the history of our program. He's as steady as they come." Smith's steady hand will guide the Bears when UCA opens its season Sept. 4 against Arkansas State University at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro. The Bears return 13 preseason all- conference selections from a team that finished 5-4 last season. On June 30, UCA moved from the Southland Conference — its athletic home since 2007 — into the Atlantic Sun Conference. Year One in the ASUN won't be a complete transition as the Bears are set to compete for a single season as part of the ASUN-WAC Challenge, a conference made up of fellow ASUN newcomers Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky, as well as former Southland foes Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin. UCA is familiar with the "Texas Four" it left the Southland with, and the Bears split a pair of games with Eastern Kentucky last fall. In the ASUN-WAC Challenge's preseason poll, the Bears were picked to finish second behind Sam Houston State. "The dynamic of this year is going to be different," Brown said. "We're traveling to new places and taking on new opportunities and challenges. That's always a good thing. I think our players have been excited about this challenge, and they're looking forward to new opportunities to compete against different schools." Smith's final season in Conway comes after a down year in 2020, when he completed a career-low 56.1% of his passes, threw 19 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and averaged 6.0 yards per attempt — the lowest figure since he became a starter. "He pressed," Brown said. "Bottom line is expectations were high and Breylin pressed." Smith's drop off last fall, according to Brown, came down to struggles with preparation during a season played outside of the Southland Conference and affected by covid-19, an issue identified by Smith, Brown and offensive coordinator Ken Collums this offseason. Brown expects his quarterback to return to form. "I think if you asked Breylin, he'd be the first to say that he didn't prepare the way he should have to be the caliber of quarterback he is," Brown said. "He was probably the first to admit that. The preparation side is where you're going to see him make the most improvement from 2020 to 2021." In the backfield, the departure of running back Kierre Crossley and his 5.1 yards per carry leaves an opening for VETERAN QB SMITH LEADS UCA IN NEW SURROUNDINGS Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe Breylin Smith enters his senion season as the quarterback of the UCA Bears. Smith has passed for 6,594 yards and 57 touchdowns in his career.

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