The FCS playoffs started Saturday, with former opponents, as well as future conference foes, of the University of Central Arkansas hitting the field.
The Bears, however, who began this season ranked No. 14 in the country, were at home, fresh off their first losing season (5-6) since 2009.
"If you look at this season and the way that it transpired, obviously [it's] not the results that we wanted, or the standard that we set here UCA," Bears Coach Nathan Brown said. "It's disappointing."
Brown's first Saturday following the football season was spent relaxing, he said, but that changes soon. He and his coaching staff is hitting the road to recruit this morning, and the next two weeks will be full of travel and preparing for official visits, Brown said, ahead of the early signing period in mid-December. They'll begin picking up the pieces from a down season.
"There's a lot of probably combining factors to why we ended the season like we did," Brown said.
He pointed to a couple of factors in the mediocrity of 2021, specifically "leak over" from the 2020 covid season, as well as meshing with new faces, mainly coaches.
"You're meeting differently, you're disciplining differently, you're almost going about football's approach to practice and workouts differently, because you had to during the covid [year]," Brown said. "I think maybe we let some bad habits slip into our program, and that's something that we're having to adjust."
In terms of new faces, Brown acknowledged the four coaches that joined his staff in 2021 in defensive coordinator Matt Kitchens, receivers coach Jamar Johnson, defensive backs coach Keith Scott and defensive backs assistant Kristen Trammel.
"Guys were having to transition and get used to [them]," Brown said. "So that's something that will be better in the 2022 season. They'll understand what these guys are about."
The Bears did have some successes. Receiver Tyler Hudson had a record-breaking year, and Darius Hale's 1,000-yard rushing season, the school's first since 2009, was an unexpected surprise, Brown said.
The biggest questions remaining are who returns next season. Hudson and Hales are guaranteed returnees, but there are multiple seniors with an extra year available. Brown said Deandre Lamont, TJ Campbell and Hayden Ray are expected to return, but beyond that, there's many discussions to be had; the biggest of which will likely be with quarterback Breylin Smith.
Brown said he hasn't discussed Smith's future yet, but he did say a handful of sixth-year seniors, which Smith would be, have already indicated they aren't planning on returning.
Without Smith, the Bears would be left with quarterbacks who suffered in the season-ending loss at Tarleton State. Brown said he hopes to land another quarterback or two in the coming signing period.
"We're going to have plenty of competition," Brown said. "We'll be ready to go a quarterback."
Brown also said finding offensive line depth, defensive linemen and instant-impact cornerbacks, of which the Bears lost four this season to the transfer portal.
"I just think if we use this and channel this in the right way, and get some key spots in recruiting that we need to make an instant impact, I think you're going to see the best version of UCA football in 2022, and in the years to come, for sustained success in the ASUN Conference," Brown said.