The 2012 college football season is just around the corner and as it draws nearer, Rant Sports continues counting down the top 100 teams in its Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews. In this edition, we profile our no.8 team, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Unlike most of their SEC peers, the Razorbacks biggest offseason story did not involve a player but instead its head coach, Bobby Petrino. The same man that quit the Atlanta Falcons midseason, Petrino was found to have given a prominent job within the program to Jessica Dorrell, who was later found to be his mistress. Once the school learned of the news, Petrino was fired and eventually replaced with John L. Smith. Named the head coach at Weber State after the 2011 season, Smith never coached a down of football for the team before joining the Razorbacks. A former assistant of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, how Smith handles the reins in Arkansas will determine how far the team goes this year.
What the Arkansas Razorbacks will miss most about their former coach is his play-calling. Luckily, the team will be able to call upon Petrino’s brother, Paul Petrino, to call the offense. Arkansas shouldn’t mess a beat with the younger Petrino pulling the strings on offense but what will be important is how well of a relationship he will have with star quarterback, Tyler Wilson. The senior quarterback had an outstanding season last year in first year as starter, finishing with other 3000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Though Wilson will most likely enjoy another great season statistically, what he must improve to help his team to another BCS berth is his performance in the clutch. The Arkansas Razorbacks had the opportunity to beat both Alabama and LSU last season but fell apart late in games. Wilson can not let that happen again.
To help Wilson out on offense, the Hogs will call upon junior tailback Knile Davis, who did not play last year due to a broken ankle. Davis rushed for over 1300 yards in his last full season and will be a dynamic weapon in the Razorback offense. Senior Cobi Hamilton is also expected to play a larger offensive role for the Arkansas Razorbacks this season. Hamilton is the eldest of the team’s wide receivers after losing its top two options to the NFL and is expected to make a successful transition from part-time player to full time player. Tight end Chris Gragg returns for his senior year and is the team’s returning leader in receptions with 41 last season. Cragg is at his best in the red zone and should become one of Tyler Wilson’s number one options near the goal line.
After finishing as one of the worst defenses in the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks decided that something needed to be done if they hoped to dethrone Alabama and LSU from their perch atop the SEC West. The Hogs hired Paul Haynes, who had spent seven years at Ohio State, as the team’s new defensive coordinator in time for the Cotton Bowl and expect him to obtain better results than his predecessor, Garrick McGee.
Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith is the team’s returning leader in sacks, finishing with 4.5 last season. His veteran presence in the middle of the Arkansas defense is underrated on a team that will need to stay mentally tough in the SEC. Tenarius “Tank” Wright, one of the Razorbacks top defensive ends from a year ago, has made the move to linebacker this season and will play along Highsmith. Wright is an athletic player and is expected to become a successful swing man on defense for the Hogs.
The Razorbacks have virtually the same schedule as last year but there are two differences in the schedules. This year the only SEC East team that Arkansas plays is East cellar dweller, Kentucky. Facing Kentucky is a more easier challenge than competing against Vanderbilt and South Carolina last year. Perhaps the biggest difference in this year’s schedule opposed to last is that Alabama and LSU must travel to Arkansas as opposed to playing on their home turf. The Razorbacks will hope that playing on their home field will allow Tyler Wilson to overcome his demons and defeat their SEC West rivals. Arkansas is a top 10 team to start the season but how they fare against the top teams in the SEC West ,will determine how successful their season truly is.
Chris Lionetti covers the Southeastern Conference (SEC) as a College Football Writer for Rant Sports
Follow Chris on twitter at: @ChrisLionetti