Even after a rocky offseason, Arkansas is still a contender in the SEC West.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/17/12, 6:11 AM EDT
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SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: John L. Smith, (First Season) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Petrino | DEF. COORDINATOR: Paul Haynes
Arkansas should remain one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams — and possibly take it up a notch — with a bevy of key returning talent. Tyler Wilson’s decision to forego the NFL Draft was huge, with the All-SEC quarterback prepared to improve on a big junior season. The 6'3", 220-pounder should bump up his 63.2 percent passing after a superb spring, and he is expected to show better footwork and sharper snap-decision skills.
Tailback Knile Davis was fully recovered from his fractured ankle during the spring, but the Razorbacks wisely withheld Davis, a 1,300-yard rusher in 2010, from heavy contact work. Davis leads a veteran corps of backs that includes seniors Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo Jr.
Cobi Hamilton is the lone returnee from what was once Arkansas’ “big four” receivers, and the senior is complemented by tight end Chris Gragg, slot receivers Marquel Wade and Julian Horton, and a large array of prospects at wideout.
Guard Alvin Bailey and center Travis Swanson are veteran SEC starters on the interior.
Is Arkansas Still a Threat to Win the SEC West Without Bobby Petrino?
Arkansas lost four of its top playmakers off a unit that has taken a perennial back seat to the offense, and was enough of a problem that coordinator Willy Robinson was let go.
Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson, both with Ohio State lineage, joined the revamped staff along with tackles coach Kevin Peoples. The new group hopes to make Arkansas a rugged run-stopping unit.
The Hogs’ best defensive end, Tank Wright, moved back to linebacker in the spring to shore up a trouble area, and he’ll likely pair with Alonzo Highsmith, who is coming off a pectoral tendon injury, on the interior of a thin linebacking corps.
Arkansas’ depth at defensive tackle is a strength. The group includes veterans Byran Jones, Robert Thomas, D.D. Jones, Alfred Davis and Lavunce Askew. Junior college transfer Austin Flynn should help immediately at end with Chris Smith, Trey Flowers and Colton Miles-Nash.
Jarius Wright, WR
Wright had over 650 yards receiving and five touchdowns in both his sophomore and junior years, but he saved the best for last with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 scores during his senior campaign.
Tyler Wilson, QB—SEC's top QB from 2011 looked better in the spring. He should put up huge numbers as a senior.
Knile Davis, RB—His balance, vision, power and speed are a lethal blend. Could be a dark horse Heisman candidate.
Cobi Hamilton, WR—Tall and speedy, Hamilton is good bet to lead all Hogs receivers in 2011.
Tenarius Wright, LB—Moved from defensive end to linebacker in spring to provide pop, smarts in middle.
Byran Jones, NT—Underrated wrangler leads deep group on interior that expects to be better against the run.
|Sept. 1st||Jacksonville State|
|Sept. 29th||at Texas A&M|
|Oct. 6th||at Auburn|
|Oct. 27th||Ole Miss|
|Nov. 10th||at South Carolina|
|Nov. 17th||at Mississippi State|
The Hogs’ kicker-punter combination of Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding could be one of the nation’s best. Hocker looks capable of extending his range into the mid-50s, while Breeding is back after ranking No. 7 nationally with a 45.3-yard punting average. Johnson and Wade, who described himself as a Joe Adams “Mini-Me,” should handle returns.
Just when it seemed Arkansas was on the brink of challenging the upper crust of college football, Bobby Petrino took a fateful Sunday evening spin on his Harley on April 1. When the smoke cleared, John L. Smith, the 63-year-old former Petrino assistant who had left the staff in December to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Weber State, landed a 10-month contract to lead the Hogs.
The Razorbacks believe they have the talent in place to build on their 21–5 record the last two seasons. Now the question is how well Arkansas can sustain without its demanding former head coach at the helm.
Arkansas believes its defense will stop the run better, which should help in the marquee games and give the Hogs’ offense more opportunities. Petrino’s greatest asset, his playcalling based on tremendous split-second recall of defensive schemes and tendencies, will be missed. But having the Alabama and LSU games at home gives the Hogs a chance at the brass ring.