The Arkansas Razorbacks should be one of the more fun teams to watch this season – hint: take the over – as the pass-happy Hogs should light up most of their opponents behind one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, Ryan Mallett.
Last year Mallett, in his first full season as a starter after sitting out a year after a transfer from Michigan, completed 55 percent of his passes and threw for 3,627 yards and 30 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Arkansas led the SEC in scoring offense (36.0), pass offense (295.5) and was third in total offense (427.3).
Despite that stellar offense, the Hogs finished just 3-5 in the SEC and 8-5 overall, which was capped by an ugly Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina. The Razorbacks had won only two of their previous 14 bowl games.
Nine starters are back on that offense, although there had been some concern this offseason about Mallett, who should get some Heisman votes. Mallett broke his foot during conditioning drills on Feb. 17 and missed all of Arkansas' spring practices. On June 9, he had a pin replaced in the foot, and some fans saw that as a bad sign, but it was a procedure Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said was planned. Mallett says he will be ready to go when fall camp starts in a few weeks.
Four of the five starting offensive linemen from last year are back and so are four of the five top rushers and the top five wide receivers from last season. So clearly offense shouldn’t be a problem for this team. That unit does need to improve on the ground – ranking 10th in the SEC in rushing last year – to be a little more unpredictable. Teams like Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss had success stopping the one-dimensional offense last season.
Defense was this team’s weak point last year as it finished last in the SEC in pass defense and pass efficiency defense last season. The coaching staff is trying about anything to improve that, including moving of last year’s starting corners, Rudell Crim, moving to strong safety. The Hogs have finished last in the SEC in total defense in each of the last two seasons and they won’t contend for a conference title if that happens again. But there are seven starters back, led by linebacker Jerry Franklin.
Here is Arkansas’ 2010 schedule:
Sept. 4 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 11 La.-Monroe (Little Rock)
Sept. 18 at Georgia
Sept. 25 Alabama
Oct. 9 Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 16 at Auburn
Oct. 23 Ole Miss
Oct. 30 Vanderbilt
Nov. 6 at South Carolina
Nov. 13 UTEP
Nov. 20 at Mississippi State
Nov. 27 LSU (Little Rock)
This schedule sets up pretty well for a run at double-digit wins and maybe – maybe – contention in the SEC West. The non-conference portion is a piece of cake other than a Texas A&M game that might have a total in the 90s. And the Hogs beat the Aggies 47-19 last season. I look for a non-conference sweep.
Arkansas doesn’t have to worry about Florida or Tennessee from the SEC East and has West contenders Alabama and LSU at home. While Arkansas nearly won at LSU last year and could well beat the Tigers this season, it’s hard to see the Hogs beating an Alabama team that has beaten Arkansas a combined 84-21 in the past two seasons.
Really Arkansas’ season probably boils down to those three road SEC games at Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina. The Hogs won two of three against those foes last year, and winning two of three again would be more than acceptable and probably get Arkansas a New Year’s Day Bowl assuming it takes care of business in games that it should. I actually see a 9-3 record for this team. BetUS lists Arkansas at +300 to win the SEC West, which is second behind the Tide. Those odds are awfully short in my opinion. Mallett is +1000 to win the Heisman, which are the fourth-shortest odds. He might be a finalist but he won’t win it – sitting out all spring and summer probably won’t help him get off to a great start.