Published July 10, 2012 - 11:00am
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SDS will be taking an early look at each SEC Championship contender and their chances of winning it in Atlanta by listing three reasons why they will win and three reasons why they will not.
Arkansas faces their first year without Bobby Petrino at the helm, with former Special Teams Coach John L. Smith holding the keys to the offensive machine. Arkansas returns explosive offensive playmakers and good depth.
Three Reasons Why
1. Tyler Wilson: Some will put up an argument about Wilson not being the top quarterback in the SEC, but most will not. He shunned the NFL Draft to return to Fayettenam for his senior season, one that began and continues on two very different paths. He returned with a premier play caller in Bobby Petrino holding the reigns of the offense and quite possibly the keys to another BCS run for the Hogs. That BCS run will begin with No. 8. Wilson returning from a junior year that saw him throw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns, all the while completing 63.2 percent of his passes and throwing only 6 interceptions in 438 passing attempts. Look no further than Wilson as possibly the top QB taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. Sure, we’re all impressed with his accuracy and arm strength, but his mental and physical toughness has really impressed me. He took all kinds of shots last year in the pocket, and he popped right back up after each of them. Wilson is the real deal. He was touted on SDS as being the breakout player of the year in 2011, and boy did he ever live up to the hype. We are all in for a special treat this season. Wilson is the No. 1 reason why the Hogs are in the hunt for an SEC Championship.
2. Knile Davis: If Tyler Wilson is the No. 1 reason Arkansas can win an SEC Championship, Davis is No. 1a. I feel like we haven’t even seen what this cat can do for a full year. He really only came into his own the second half of 2010, when he took the second half by storm. He played sparingly his freshman year and sparingly at the beginning of his sophomore year, too. But the second half saw Davis explode. He ended up rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last year, Davis sat out all year with a broken ankle. He’s ready to rock and roll this year, and he’s officially back. Davis will have the ability to stay fresh throughout the season because the Hogs will use both Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo for some of the grunt work. And if you have forgotten, there is not much juking in his running style; rather, he is one of the most straight-ahead runners you will see in college football. It’s all business for this throwback.
3. Favorable Schedule: SDS ranks Arkansas’ 2012 schedule as the sixth toughest (out of seven) in the West and 10th overall in the SEC. The Hogs play eight home games, compared to just four road games. And the Hogs get both Alabama and LSU at home, the two toughest games of the year in their half of the division. The toughest stretch of games comes in November when they travel to South Carolina and Mississippi State before hosting LSU. While every weekend in the SEC is a tough game, Arkansas can benefit from having an easier schedule compared to the rest of the league, and it gives them a feather in their cap by hosting both Alabama and LSU.
Three Reasons Why Not
1. John L. Smith: You have to feel for Coach Smith coming into a situation like this, but Bobby Petrino didn’t leave the cupboard bare, much like the back of his Harley. There is talent to win, but Smith is not a “can’t miss” coach. He’s filling a need for the Razorbacks, and if things go as expected, he could return in the future. While I like Smith and feel for the situation he’s stepped into, I’m not sold on his ability to take the keys to a program that is competing for an SEC Championship and win it. He does have previous head coaching experience at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, and he has never had a team with this much firepower before. Petrino was one of the best offensive minds in the country, and there are not too many coaches you could have hired better than Petrino. But I’ll wait until the end of the year to pass judgment on Coach Smith.
2. Too much inexperience lost at WR: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs are all gone from the receiving corps. Wilson’s favorite target Wright caught 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Special teams standout Joe Adams is also gone, along with his Houdini-like returns. Really only one proven receiver returns in Cobi Hamilton, with the No. 2 receiver Marquel Wade in legal trouble. Also, tight end Chris Gragg could be Wilson’s No. 1 option before it’s over. While there are a slew of young players, they are virtually all unproven entering this season. There is time to develop these players, but the talent lost from last year combined with inexperience this year could be a hindrance to winning a championship.
3. Defense: You ask, does Arkansas really play defense? They actually do, but the defense is going to have to step up one of these years if the Hogs are going to win an SEC Championship. Arkansas was 8th in scoring defense, giving up 22.2 points per game and 9th in total defense yielding 362.8 yards per game. These numbers have to improve. The SEC Champion usually has a top two to three defense in the league the year they win it. Arkansas can have all the firepower offensively, but if they cannot get opponents off the field on third down, it doesn’t matter how good they are. This defense is just middle-of-the-pack good right now, and it will take stepping up another echelon on the defensive scale to bring home a championship. However, the defensive line and linebackers are both talented and have some depth.