Thursday, August 27, 2009

Arkansas Preview

The Arkansas preview below concludes the team previews.  I'll release my SEC predictions and All-SEC team on Monday.  It will then be Game Week, and I'll be back to doing regular updates when appropriate.  As the season progresses, I'll do a lot of game previews but there's no need to preview the first game since nothing has changed since I previewed Washington recently.

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Arkansas fans are looking forward to the 2009 season with high expectations. Head coach Bobby Petrino enters his second season, and he now has a big-time quarterback to run his offense. Their defense should be a year better. And they're thinking about bowl games in Fayeteville...and I'm right there with them. I'm a believer in Bobby Petrino and think Arkansas is going to be hell to deal with this year, despite the fact that their talent is not at the level of the elite programs in the SEC. I expect the Hogs to be much improved and should improve upon last year's 5-7 record by two or three games.


Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett (pictured) is ready to take over as the Hogs' signal caller, and he's the perfect guy to run Bobby Petrino's system which has traditionally succeeded with pro-style QBs such as Brian Brohm and Stefan Lefors. Mallett is a big guy at 6'7" and he has a howitzer for a right arm that will remind many LSU fans of Jamarcus Russell. He's not mobile, but he can make every throw imaginable and he should flourish in this offense. He's likely headed for some All-SEC or even some All-American teams in the future. Though he lacks experience, he should be a significant improvement over Casey Dick from last year.

Arkansas relied on the passing game last year to produce on offense, but Petrino prefers to be balanced. He returns All-SEC running back Michael Smith who ran for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 2008. However Smith was the only back that was productive for Arkansas last year, and he looks to be their only legitmate threat again this year. A couple of true freshman, Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo, could play major roles.

Arkansas doesn't have one of the better receiver units in the SEC, but they do have some threats. Senior London Crawford is the most experienced of the group, but he only caught 27 balls, though one of those was the game winner against LSU. Sophomore speedster Joe Adams is a guy who I think will really break out this year. Jarious Wright should contribute as well. They do have an outstanding tight end in DJ Williams, who caught 61 passes in 2008. The Hogs will surely lean on Williams again.

The Hogs still look weak on the offensive line. They allowed a league worst 45 sacks in 12 games last year. They also ranked tenth in the SEC in rushing yards. They return 3 starters from last year's unit, and only guard Mitch Petrus is an All-SEC candidate.  This is the biggest question mark on the team. 


The Hogs's defense was their weak spot in 2008 as they ranked dead last in the SEC in total defense allowing 375 yards per game. They also ranked last in scoring defense, allowing 31 points per game. Will they be better this year? Probably a bit since they return most of their starters. But will they be improved enough on defense to really contend in the SEC West? Not likely.
On the defensive line, Arkansas returns their best player on defense in defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard (pictured). He logged eight tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year. Combined with Zach Stadther, who is solid, the defense should be tough up the middle. Their defensive ends are not huge pash rushing threats.

All three starting linebackers return, including Jerry Franklin who led the team in tackles in 2008 with 87. The linebacking crew didn't make a ton of plays last year, but they return a lot of starting experience.

The secondary will be a strong suit for the Hogs. They return both starting cornerbacks who combined for 17 pass break-ups. Free safety Elton Ford returns though JUCO transfer, Anthony Leon, may be a factor. Sophomore Jerico Nelson, who played at Destrehan with Jordan Jefferson and Tim Molton, could start at strong safety.

All in all, I expect Arkansas to be much improved but to still finish no better than 4th in the SEC West. Their schedule (below) presents four very winnable home conference games. I think they're in a prime position to upset Georgia in Fayeteville. They also have four winnable non-conference games with the toughest game being against Texas A&M in Dallas. Their road games all look very tough however. Seven wins looks like a strong possibility.

All SEC candidates:
QB Ryan Mallett
RB Michael Smith
WR Joe Adams
TE DJ Williams
DT Malcolm Shephard
OG Mitch Petrus

vs. Missouri State (W)
vs. Georgia  (W)
@ Alabama  (L)
vs. Texas A&M (Dallas) (W)
vs. Auburn (W)
@ Florida (L)
@ Ole Miss (L)
vs. Eastern Michigan (W)
vs. South Carolina (W)
vs. Troy (W)
vs. Mississippi State (W)
@ LSU (L)


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