Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10
No. 8 - Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas in a Word: Dependent
When Bobby Petrino snuck out the backdoor in Atlanta and emerged in Arkansas, most assumed that Fayetteville was just another quick layover in a career that was beginning to resemble George Clooney's in Up In The Air. What few took the time to consider was that Petrino would not only stick around Arkansas, but turn the Razorbacks into a yearly SEC West contender.
Well, entering his fourth year at the school and coming off a Sugar Bowl berth, that's exactly what he's done. But, with a new quarterback and the always tough SEC schedule, is it realistic to think the Razorbacks can continue their forward progression?
Why Arkansas Will Live Up to Billing:
Although I've made jokes in the past wondering if Petrino even allows his defense to practice, the truth is, it's actually the defense that will be the strength of the 2011 squad. There is experience and talent at all three levels, with Isaac Madison and Tramain Thomas leading a veteran secondary, Jerry Franklin back as a fourth-year linebacker and Jake Bequette making plays along the defensive line.
As for the offensive side of the ball, Arkansas has skill position talent that would make a lot of NFL teams jealous. Running back Knile Davis rushed for over 1,300 yards last year, despite not becoming the featured back until right around the halfway point of the season. As for the wide receivers, well, the unit may be the best in the country. Jarius Wright and Joe Adams combined for close to 100 catches last year with Greg Childs adding 46, despite missing half the season with a knee injury.
Why Arkansas Could Disappoint:
I know what you're thinking; the answer here has to be new quarterback Tyler Wilson, right? Honestly, I'm not so sure.
Listen, as good as the departed Ryan Mallett was, the truth is that Arkansas played its best football in 2010 when Davis got going late in the season. But while Davis returns, most of the line that blocked for him last year doesn't. Arkansas has just two returning starters, and key reserve Anthony Oden just got booted from the team after a second DWI arrest.
Then there's the always brutal SEC schedule, which doesn't break in Arkansas' favor this year. The Hogs' two toughest games are in the division, and on the road, at Alabama and LSU. Not good for a team trying to win its first SEC West title since 2006.
Key Game: LSU (Nov. 25)
With those trips to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge bookending the SEC schedule, each is important in its own right.
Still, we'll call the game at LSU more important. Understand that if the Hogs were to lose in Tuscaloosa, there's still a chance they could backdoor their way to a West title. The same doesn't seem nearly as likely if they lose to LSU in their last game of the regular season.
On The Spot: Tyler Wilson
Again, it seems like the Razorbacks offense will be as good as their young offensive line. At the same time, nobody blames the offensive line when a team loses a game. The onus there falls on the quarterback, Tyler Wilson.
While Wilson has shown flashes in his limited time under center, things are quite a bit different being "The Guy." It'll be interesting to see how he handles it.
We started by calling Arkansas "dependent," and we're sticking by that sentiment. The Razorbacks are dependent on Wilson developing. They're dependent on the offensive line jelling. And they're dependent on other teams beating each other up, and helping them out. That's a whole lot that needs to break right for them.
All things being equal, this writer firmly believes Arkansas can play with anyone in the country. The problem is of course, that things aren't equal. They've got a brutal schedule and are young in the wrong places. Simply put, it's hard to see Arkansas topping last year's run to the Sugar Bowl.
Best Case Scenario: 10-2, SEC West 2nd place, BCS at-large bid
Worst Case Scenario: 8-4, Outback Bowl
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.
Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.