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August 1, 2010
But any chance of challenging for an SEC West title -- and of finishing in the top 20 -- rest on improvement by the defense. The Hogs were last in the SEC in total defense last season, and the unit -- especially the secondary -- must play much better this season.
Junior quarterback Ryan Mallett has legitimate Heisman aspirations, and he will throw to the best receiving corps in the SEC. The offensive line should be good, too.
Still, no matter how productive the offense is, it all comes back to how much the defense has improved.
Here's a closer look at Arkansas.
THE SCHEME: : Coordinator Paul Petrino left for the same job at Illinois, but the Hogs won't skip a beat with quarterback coach Garrick McGee being promoted to coordinator. Anyway, coach Bobby Petrino makes the calls. New line coach Chris Klenakis could have a big impact. He had been offensive coordinator at Nevada and brought some aspects of the Wolf Pack's "Pistol" offense to Fayetteville, giving this already-potent attack another wrinkle.
STAR POWER: Junior Ryan Mallett may be the top quarterback in college football. He enjoyed a solid debut after transferring from Michigan, leading the SEC and setting school records by throwing for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns. He's a legit Heisman contender who likely turns pro after this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: It will be difficult for any newcomer to make much of an impact on this veteran-laden attack. But watch out for massive redshirt freshman G Alvin Bailey (6 feet 5/323 pounds). He almost played last season, then ran with the first team in the spring when Wade Grayson hurt a knee. Bailey looks special.
STRONGEST AREA: The receiving trio of Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright will be among the best in the nation. That trio combined for 118 catches and 19 TDs last season. Sprinkle in TE D.J. Williams, who caught 32 passes, and this is a group with few peers.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The ground game needs to be more productive. The staff will have plenty of options. Ronnie Wingo may end up being the workhorse after flashing potential last season as a true freshman, when he averaged 6.5 yards per carry and ran for 319 yards. Also, keep an eye on Knile Davis. Broderick Green paced the team with 442 yards, and versatile speedster Michael Smith is gone. At least there's a veteran line. Four starters return and eight of last season's top nine linemen are back. T DeMarcus Love is the best player up front.
THE SCHEME: This unit must develop if Arkansas wants to contend for a title. That means the pressure is on coordinator Willy Robinson, whose unit ranked last in the SEC (401.2 ypg) in total defense in 2009. The Hogs use a 4-3 set.
STAR POWER: There's not much, befitting a team that stopped very few people last season. LB Jerry Franklin looks to become the first Hog to lead the team in tackles three seasons in a row since 1960.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: There may be opportunities along the line in backup roles. True freshman Byran Jones, a 6-3, 297-pound four-star recruit, could crack the rotation at tackle. He has incredible strength. And don't be shocked if true freshman E Chris Smith contributes.
STRONGEST AREA: There's not one standout unit, though the line has a chance to be solid. E Jake Bequette and T Zach Stadther form a nice nucleus for a unit that must replace standout T Malcolm Sheppard. Bequette led the team with 5.5 sacks in 2009, while Stadther was a rock inside.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The pass defense was atrocious, ranking last in the SEC (248.5 ypg) in 2009. Five foes passed for more than 300 yards against the Hogs in 2009, when they yielded 22 touchdown tosses. And opponents completed an SEC-high 59.2 percent of their passes. Coaches will look to SS Rudell Crim -- who was a starting corner last season but was moved during spring drills -- and CB Ramon Broadway to provide leadership for a developing secondary. It helps that CB Isaac Madison is back after missing '09 with a knee injury. And keep an eye on sophomore CB Darius Winston, a former five-star recruit who could be ready to blossom.
Arkansas could be buried before the leaves fall off the trees. After breezy home games vs. FCS member Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe to start the season, the Hogs play three of four on the road; the games away from home are Georgia, Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, and Auburn. The lone home game in that stretch? It's against Alabama. After that gauntlet, Arkansas gets an emotional home game against Ole Miss and former Hogs coach Houston Nutt. Bottom line: Arkansas may open the season 2-5 if its chinstrap isn't buckled tightly. The rest of the menu is more manageable, with the biggies being a trip to South Carolina and a season-ending visit from LSU.
Optimism centers on an offense that returns nine starters from an attack that ranked No. 3 overall (427.3 ypg), No. 1 in scoring (36.0 ppg) and No. 1 in passing (295.5 ypg) in the SEC last season. But will the defense be better? It struggled last season, but the unit did rank second in the league in turnovers forced with 30. If the defense can just be average to complement a prolific offense, the Hogs could be a 10-win team.
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