Of the seven teams in the SEC West, the Arkansas Razorbacks are the furthest from the top. After a disastrous 2012 season and their third head coach in three seasons, the Razorbacks went from being within arms reach of the top to being at the very bottom, and now they have a long way back up.
Before Bobby Petrino was fired in disgrace, Arkansas was set up to have perhaps the best season in program history. They returned one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in Tyler Wilson, they had the best collection of defensive talent they had in years on paper and they had the scheduling advantage of playing both the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers at home.
This was the Razorbacks’ chance to win an SEC title and take their program to the next level, but all of that was lost when Petrino crashed his motorcycle and his extra-marital affair became public.
John L. Smith was named the new head coach, but he was unable to keep the program together. Not only did Arkansas blow its opportunity to challenge for the conference championship, but they were one of the worst teams in the SEC in 2012, a far cry from what they expected following their great success during the 2011 season.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Razorbacks no longer have Wilson as their quarterback and team leader. They have to replace wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and the 90 receptions he made last year, and they have to deal with the early exit of running back Knile Davis. The Razorbacks’ defense is also well below the level is needs to be to compete in the SEC.
The head coach of Arkansas is now Brett Bielema, who has no prior experience in the SEC as either a player or coach, and will be traversing the nation’s toughest conference for the first time in 2013. Bielema is in over his head trying to compete in the SEC with a quarterback that is inexperienced, skill players that are unproven and a defense that is subpar.
All of those factors put the Razorbacks at a huge disadvantage for both the immediate and long-term future.
To make the situation worse for Arkansas, the SEC West has three powerhouse programs in Alabama, LSU and the Texas A&M Aggies, who the Razorbacks are years away from being able to compete with at the top of the division. There is also the Ole Miss Rebels, a team that could quickly be rising to the top of the division under head coach Hugh Freeze.
Even the Auburn Tigers, the other cellar-dweller in the SEC West, has far more stability in its program with former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn taking over as head coach after just one year away from the program. This clearly puts Arkansas at the bottom of the SEC West heading into the 2013 season.
When they fell, they fell fast. One motorcycle accident was all it took to take Arkansas from a legitimate competitor in the SEC West to the absolute worst team in the division approaching the 2013 season. It was such a swift and decisive fall, and now the climb back to the top, if it happens at all, should take quite a while.