Bobby Petrino should have one of his most complete teams.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/13/11, 7:00 AM EDT
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SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bobby Petrino, 23–15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Garrick McGee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Willy Robinson
Duplicating the production of the nation’s No. 9 total offense will not be easy for the Razorbacks, even with virtually all their top running backs and receivers returning. Tyler Wilson is the likely replacement for record-setting quarterback Ryan Mallett. Wilson doesn’t have the snap delivery and a howitzer arm like Mallett, but he’s heady and relatively accurate and throws on the run well.
Arkansas might boast the best crop of receivers in the country, and their skills are diverse. Joe Adams is dangerous in the slot as an open-field terror. Jarius Wright increased his already impressive speed in the offseason, and he’s a terrific downfield blocker. Greg Childs, who is coming off knee surgery, and Cobi Hamilton are big-play threats and fade-route experts. This group needs to cut down on its drops to be considered the best.
Knile Davis led SEC running backs with 1,322 rushing yards, but the junior will be pushed by classmate Ronnie Wingo, whose dedication to running between the tackles rose to a new level in the spring. Dennis Johnson, who has recovered from injury, can’t be forgotten, while senior Broderick Green is lost for the year with a torn ACL.
The offensive line will have two new tackle starters out of a mix that includes Grant Freeman, Jason Peacock and true freshman Brey Cook. Interior linemen Travis Swanson, Alvin Bailey and Grant Cook have all been starters. The line struggled a bit in the spring.
Can the Arkansas offense put up similar numbers to last season with Tyler Wilson at quarterback?
The defense, often overlooked in Petrino’s first three seasons, had a strong spring with the talent level rivaling the more hyped offense. The Razorbacks rose 53 spots to No. 36 nationally in total defense last season and should improve on that finish with a veteran group.
The returning starters are headlined by a pair of 2010 captains, end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin, along with safety Tramain Thomas and cornerbacks Isaac Madison and Darius Winston.
The defensive tackle rotation is one to rival the SEC’s best, with D.D. Jones and Byran Jones (both out in the spring recovering from surgery) supported by junior college transfer Robert Thomas, Alfred Davis and seniors Lavunce Askew and Zach Stadther. Arkansas’ coaches believe the Hogs will be a strong run-stopping unit and be able to apply pressure better with a four-man rush than in years past.
Franklin has a shot at leading the team in tackles for four consecutive years. He and Jerico Nelson will be the leaders of the linebacking corps.
Knile Davis, RB Came on strong in the last half of the 2010 season to lead all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards, including five games of 130 or more yards.
Greg Childs, WR One of the SEC's best in 2010 before suffering a knee injury, Childs posted 659 receiving yards and six touchdowns in eight games.
Jake Bequette, DE A graduate student who’s headed to law school in the future, Bequette is a team leader who recorded seven sacks and five hurries in 2010.
|Sept. 3rd||Missouri State|
|Sept. 10th||New Mexico (Little Rock, AR)|
|Sept. 24th||at Alabama|
|Oct. 1st||Texas A&M (Arlington, TX)|
|Oct. 22nd||at Ole Miss|
|Oct. 29th||at Vanderbilt|
|Nov. 5th||South Carolina|
|Nov. 19th||Mississippi State (Little Rock, AR)|
|Nov. 25th||at LSU|
Zack Hocker is back at kicker after a freshman season in which he made 16-of-19 field goals, including 7-of-9 from 40 yards and out. Dylan Breeding showed a stronger leg in the spring after averaging 42.5 yards per punt. Adams was the nation’s No. 5 punt returner with a 15.6-yard average, and Johnson, a kickoff return ace, is back from injury.
Arkansas must find a way to reach its potential in the running game early in 2011 to take pressure off Wilson and the passing attack. The good news is that even if the offense struggles a bit early, the Razorbacks’ defense should be good enough to win some games.
Alabama and LSU are the favorites in the SEC West, but if things break right for the Hogs, a division title isn’t out of the question.