Arkansas’ 2010 campaign included a 10-win season and a trip to their first BCS game. Hog fans believe that success can be repeated this year, but most preseason publications are putting the Razorbacks behind Alabama and LSU in the heavily-stacked SEC West.
Is the predicted 3rd place finish rightfully warranted? Lets take a look….
While the Hogs return several key players, it’s the losses that everyone is focused on…particularly the loss of QB Ryan Mallett. Mallett threw for 3,869 yards and 32 touchdowns while leading one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Hogs also must replace All-SEC OT DeMarcus Love, who anchored an offensive line that paved the way for 148 yds/game on the ground, along with three other starters and TE D.J. Williams (54 REC, 627 YDS, 4 TD).
The Hogs return the SEC’s, and possibly one of the nation’s best WR corp, including preseason All-SEC 1st-teamer Greg Childs. Also returning is 1,300-yard rusher Knile Davis, as well as backfield burner Ronnie Wingo. The best news for this year’s team is the returning experience on defense. The Hogs return 7 starters, including pass rusher Jake Bequette, All SEC safety Tramain Thomas, and the their top two tacklers in Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson.
While junior QB Tyler Wilson is “unproven” to many, so is Alabama’s QB situation, while LSU returns Jordan Jefferson with his 7TDs and 10 picks, which are far from impressive numbers.
LSU’s top returning receivers accounted for a whopping 4 total TDs last year while Bama lost top receiver Julio Jones to the NFL. The RB position is even more unknown for the Tigers as departed Stevan Ridley leaves a huge hole. Sophomore Spencer Ware (175 yards, 7.3/carry, 1 TD) is expected to get the bulk of the carries over Michael Ford. Talented RB Trent Richardson is getting a lot of attention at Alabama, but this will be his first season getting the bulk of the workload.
Both the Tigers and Tide are boasting experienced defenses, but is that different from any previous year? Arkansas will be putting their most experienced and deepest unit on the field in the last 5 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Hog defense bail out the offense this year–something unheard of for Arkansas fans in recent years.
Schedule also plays an important role in determining preseason success (guessing, in other words), and Arkansas has a full plate, with road games at both Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. Arkansas has had the Tigers by the tail lately, taking 3 of the last 4, and are 2-1 with Petrino at the helm.
All things considered, I believe that Arkansas has the returning personnel to make a run at the SEC Championship. Games in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge will ultimately decide the Hogs’ fate, but experience at many key positions should put the Hog’s in a position to win. The final week in September will be the first true test for the Hog’s, and could be the last.