Arkansas Football 2012: 7 Things That Will Be Different from Last Year
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It was only just a few months ago that everyone was talking about Arkansas as a legitimate national title contender for the 2012 season. However, that was before the shocking and embarrassing scandal that ultimately cost head coach Bobby Petrino his job back in April.
Now that they've lost their coach and the man that they once trusted to be their leader, there's simply no telling how the Razorbacks will respond this fall.
This is a team that clearly has the type of talent on both sides of the ball to compete for not just an SEC championship, but a national title as well. But in order to do that, they'll have to adapt to a few major changes this summer
This certainly wasn't an offseason to remember in Fayetteville, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the actual 2012 season won't be a memorable one.
There are going to be some key differences between Arkansas' 2011 season and the upcoming 2012 campaign, and here's a look at a few of the notable ones.
1. John L. Smith Will Be Running the Show
John L. Smith
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The embarrassing scandal involving recently dismissed head coach Bobby Petrino has shed some negative light on the Arkansas football program. And it's John L. Smith's job to help the Razorbacks overcome the adversity they now face.
The 63-year-old Smith is a seasoned coaching veteran who has moved around to 10 different schools during his 40-plus year coaching career. But never before has he had this type of opportunity.
Smith will lead a team that will start the year ranked in the top 15 in the preseason polls, and it will be a squad that has the chance to contend for both an SEC championship and a BCS title.
The former Michigan State coach didn't exactly have a great deal of success at his last head coaching stop, as he led the Spartans to just a 22-26 record in his four years.
Nevertheless, this will undoubtedly be the most talented team that Smith has ever coached, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the leadership role that was surprisingly thrust upon his shoulders this spring.
2. Knile Davis Will Be Bursting Through Defenses
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After a breakout sophomore campaign in 2010 in which he rushed for 1,322 yards and scored 14 touchdowns, it appeared that Knile Davis was ready to take the next step towards national stardom. But then a freak preseason ankle injury ended up shelving him for the entire year.
After rehabbing for months, Davis is now ready to return to the Arkansas backfield.
This year, the supremely gifted rusher will be looking to make up for lost time and show fans what they were missing last season.
The 6'1'', 226-pound junior is one of the most gifted athletes in all of college football, and he possesses the combination of size, speed, power, vision, balance and instincts that you only see in truly topflight backs.
Given the fact that Arkansas ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing offense last season, averaging just 137 yards on the ground per game, the Razorbacks are glad that Davis will be back and powering his way through opposing defenses in 2012.
3. Cobi Hamilton Will Be the Top Receiver
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It's definitely going to be difficult for the Arkansas offense to replace three wide receivers—Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs—who were each selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Adams, Wright and Childs combined to catch 141 passes in 2011, and they managed to put constant stress on opposing secondaries all season long.
Now that the talented trio is gone, the Razorbacks will turn to Cobi Hamilton to be the team's new No. 1 go-to target in the passing game.
Hamilton, who caught 34 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns last season, is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the country. And the 6'3'', 209-pound senior has a chance to be one of the most coveted receiver prospects in the 2013 NFL draft.
Arkansas may miss Adams, Wright and Childs, but with Hamilton, along with talented tight end Chris Gragg and gifted young sophomore speedster Marquel Wade (pending his return from a suspension) all in the mix, QB Tyler Wilson will still have all the weapons he needs to light up secondaries in 2012.
4. Tyler Wilson Will Be Expected to Be Great
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At this time last year, Tyler Wilson was being talked about as one of the most intriguing new starting quarterbacks in college football. Everyone knew that the former 4-star recruit had the potential to be special; he just had to prove that he could handle being a starter in the SEC first.
That's just what Wilson did in 2011, as he stepped in for Ryan Mallett and outperformed his predecessor, completing 63 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns and leading the Razorbacks to 11 wins and a top-five national ranking.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior could have entered the 2012 NFL draft and competed to be a late first-round pick, but now that Wilson has decided to return to school for another year and work on his game, he'll be expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country this season.
Wilson is one of the best pure passers in the sport, and he has the look of a future top 10 draft pick. However, now he'll have to deal with all of the pressure and expectations that comes along after a successful season. It should be interesting to see how he handles the hype in 2012.
Alonzo Highsmith Will Be the New Defensive Leader
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Arkansas' defense lost its two leading tacklers from 2011—linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas. That means that returning tackle leader Alonzo Highsmith will now be counted on to step up and become the unit's top playmaker.
Last year, Highsmith tallied 80 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his first year after transferring from Phoenix College.
The 6'1'', 233-pound senior is the type of tough, instinctive and athletic defender who has the look of a prototypical SEC linebacker.
Highsmith will be joined by converted defensive end Tenarius Wright and gritty senior Matt Marshall to give Arkansas one of the most talented linebacker corps in the conference for the 2012 season.
6. The Offensive Line Will Be Stronger
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Last year, Arkansas' offensive line had just one returning starter. The lack of experience showed at times in 2011, as the Razorbacks allowed 28 sacks and struggled against some of the stronger defensive fronts that they went up against.
This year, though, with three starters returning, including potential standouts such as center Travis Swanson and guard Alvin Bailey, this line has the chance to be one of the conference's strongest units.
Swanson and Bailey, who are two of the top junior interior lineman NFL prospects in the country, should provide plenty of power inside.
Jason Peacock, who was suspended following an arrest for theft back in March, should be back to start at right tackle this fall. Talented former 4-star recruit Brey Cook will man the all-important left tackle spot.
7. LSU and Alabama Both Come to Fayetteville
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The two most important games on Arkansas' 2012 schedule will both be played at the friendly confines of Razorback Stadium, as both LSU and Alabama will have to make the trip to Fayetteville this season.
The Razorbacks' only two losses in 2011 came on the road at the hands of the Tigers and the Tide, who were the two top-ranked teams in college football last year.
The SEC West race should be one of the most entertaining battles to watch this season, and it just so happens that two of the most crucial battles in that race will take place at Arkansas in 2012.