This post continues our series checking in on next season's opponents. Our goal is to have gathered useful information about each character from Carolina's villains gallery prior to the beginning of the season. We've previously talked about the East Carolina Pirates, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Navy Midshipmen, the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Auburn Tigers, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, and the . Today, we're talking about the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Arkansas is coming off one of its better seasons in recent memory. The Hogs won 10 games for the first time since 2006 and only the second time since 1989. They also earned their first trip to a BCS bowl since 1980. Arkansas's only three losses came to Auburn, Alabama, and Ohio St., all premier teams. It could easily be argued that this was one of the nation's best teams, despite its three losses. Arkansas did it on the strength of a high-flying offense that ranked 9th in the nation in total offense and 17th in scoring offense. That's exactly what the Arkansas faithful thought were going to get eventually when they welcomed Bobby Petrino to Fayetteville. With Petrino seemingly settling into his new job, things have rarely looked so promising for this program.
Phil Steele rates Arkansas at 47th in the nation with 16 returning starters. Unfortunately for the Hogs, one of those players is star QB Ryan Mallett, who departs for the NFL after earning second-team All-SEC honors a year ago. Other key losses include Mackey Award-winning TE D.J. Williams, both offensive tackles, and two key linebackers. The good news is that Petrino has stocked the cupboard over the past couple of years, and the Hogs will enjoy increased depth in 2011.
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Despite losing Mallett, everything is in place for Arkansas to again field an elite offense this year. Tyler Wilson played well in relief of Mallett last year, and he'll have every tool imaginable at his disposal. Arkansas likely has the nation's best receiver combo in Joe Adams and Greg Childs, and RB Knile Davis is good enough to challenge Marcus Lattimore and Trent Richardson for first-team All-SEC honors. There are some questions on the offensive line, but with this much firepower, my money is on Petrino--one of the game's true offensive masterminds--to put points on the board. One thing that I do expect to be different this year is the run-pass distribution. Although known for his passing offenses, Petrino likes balance, and with Wilson a little green coming into the season, I look for Petrino to lean on Davis early and often.
Arkansas had a good but not great defense last year. It was good enough to handle most teams, but elite offenses like that of Auburn ate it up pretty good. It was particularly weak against the run. Arkansas will need for its LB corps and defensive line to improve in this regard if it's to challenge for an SEC Title. Unfortunately, the loss of key LB talent may make that an issue again this year. The good news is that star ILB Jerry Franklin is back to lead the defense.
The Arkansas-South Carolina secret is something of a best-kept secret in the SEC, with the intra-division rivals frequently duking it out in hard-fought games. Unfortunately for Carolina, Arkansas has taken care of business in the last two games, winning both handily. Last year's blowout loss in Columbia was particularly demoralizing, although in retrospect it seems that Steve Spurrier may have been sandbagging for Florida in that game. Regardless, Carolina would undoubtedly like to get a little revenge over the Hogs.
I think this is the toughest game Carolina will play all season, outside of a hopeful return to Atlanta and / or a berth in a premier bowl. The Georgia and Florida games are more important, but Arkansas is better than both. Indeed, Arkansas is an excellent team, perhaps as good a choice as any as a dark-horse national-title contender. Moreover, they match up well against us. I hope to see Carolina's secondary improve this year, but until it does so, I see no reason to believe it won't have its hands full against the Hogs. I like our chances to keep things close if we can get Lattimore running hard, but in the end I think Arkansas will win.
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