Between Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt, the Arkansas Razorbacks have put together winning seasons for seven years out of the last 10, including a pretty wonderful 11-2 run in 2011.

This year, many people are expecting nothing to change except the fact that Bobby Petrino’s out (penalized for his philandering ways), and beloved John L. Smith’s in with a 10-month contract. If Arkansas is half as a good as Smith is as a soundbite, they might make a run for the title!

In fact, the AP and USA Today like the Hogs so much that they have a Top 10 ranking to start the 2012 season. But can they be better than that, or will the John L. Smith roadshow fall by the wayside?

LAST SEASON

The Razorbacks were great last year. Tyler Wilson took over where Ryan Mallett left off, spraying the ball in all directions on an offense that continually torched the opposition for an average of nearly 37 points per game. Of course, the LSU and Alabama losses – as well as an injury to Knile Davis – hurt a run for a SEC West title – but it didn’t hurt a run to the Cotton Bowl, where they stomped Kansas State 29-16 in a battle of the unequals.

Then, in the off-season, Bobby Petrino had a motorbike crash and afterwards it emerged that he’d been cheating on his wife with Jessica Dorrell, an Arkansas member of staff, and he was kicked out of a job. He has since bowed his head and begged for forgiveness publically – we’ll see if anything comes of that in 2013. The SEC Football Blog has already made a point that Petrino should return in 2012, but right now, it’s the John L. Smith show, although Smith did hire Bobby Petrino’s brother, Paul, as offensive co-ordinator. The Hogs have realised that they might not like their ex-coach, but they sure as hell love his offensive mind.

NFL-wise, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Jake Bequette were all drafted, and don’t be surprised if each of them has an impact this or next season in the big leagues.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN OFFENSIVELY?

We’ll go as far as saying that Paul Petrino’s offense – and he knows his brother’s system inside-out – will be rich on both pass (QB Wilson, who threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 TDs in an incredible year comes back, as do WRs Cobi Hamilton and Marquel Wade and TE Chris Gragg) and run – Knile Davis is back after injury. Be afraid, defenses. We feel that by December, we’ll be using another two words to talk about Wilson: Heisman Candidate. Yep, he’s that good.

BUT IS KNILE DAVIS GOING TO BE OK?

Knile Davis suffered a broken ankle in August that wiped out his 2011 year, but he’s back and bigger, faster and angrier than ever. This guy could well be the next Darren McFadden or Felix Jones in Fayetteville, and we anticipate he’ll rack up the receiving yards, too, which gives Wilson another pair of hands. And if Davis is slow to start the season, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo put together over 1,000 yards rushing between them. In short, the Hogs are going to be OK in the backfield.

SPEAKING OF BACK, HOW’S THE DEFENSE LOOKING? 

The loss of defensive end Jake Bequette to the NFL – he had 10 sacks last year – is going to hurt Arkansas. No two ways about it. Also, top tackler Jerry Franklin, who had 101 tackles last year, has gone, too, meaning that there are going to be a few holes in Paul Haynes’ ‘D’. A Spring injury to Alonzo Highsmith – who contributed 12 ½ tackles for loss last year – won’t have helped Haynes’ humour much, although Highsmith will probably be back by the opener against the mighty Jacksonville State.

AND AT DEFENSIVE BACK?

Free safety Tremain Thomas, who had 91 tackles of his own last year, is gone, as is Elton Ford. Haynes will be hoping that Darius Winston and Tevin Mitchel can pick up the slack that’s going to be left – and look out for Ross Rasner, a linebacker who can play at free safety too. This could be interesting…. Or distastrous.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

September 1 JACKSONVILLE STATE

September 8 LOUISIANA-MONROE

September 15 ALABAMA

September 22 RUTGERS

September 29 at Texas A&M

October 6 at Auburn

October 13 KENTUCKY

October 27 OLE MISS

November 3 TULSA

November 10 at South Carolina

November 17 at Mississippi State

November 24 LSU

BOTTOM LINE: Arkansas has a decent start to the season, with its first four games at home – including a monster one against Alabama, which gives the Razorbacks to a) Get some revenge for 2011 and b) Show the pollsters that they are a viable National Championship Option. Realistically, we think that they will go all the way to November 10th with just one loss (to Alabama), before a monster clash at South Carolina starts off a nasty final three games of the schedule, with a road trip to Mississippi State and a home game against LSU providing all the fun of the fair. Realistically, we think Arkansas ends the season with a 9-3 record, with Alabama, LSU and South Carolina providing the losses on an otherwise strong deal.

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