The Arkansas Razorbacks have the talent on the field to justify their No. 10 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but do the results of the poll take into account the Hogs’ new leadership on the sideline?
The two biggest factors that the Razorbacks have going for them this year are the return of quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis.
Wilson is hoping that one more solid year of offensive production will lead to a higher placement when he enters the NFL draft next spring. Davis, returning from injury and a year on the bench, is hoping to raise his profile in the minds of NFL recruiters and make the leap to the NFL sooner rather than later.
The Razorbacks have 12 returning seniors, six on each side of the ball. That is a formidable amount of experience for any college football team to bring to the field in hopes of a national championship or bowl game.
The talent on the sideline is another matter.
A new coach can be a setback for any team. He has to become accustomed to his new players, and the players to his leadership and teaching style. Any changes in leadership to an organization come with a learning curve for all involved.
The Razorbacks have a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. And they all have big shoes to fill.
Paul Petrino has replaced Garrick McGee as offensive coordinator. McGee’s Razorback offense outscored opponents 478-289 during the 2011 regular season. Paul Petrino spent 2008 and 2009 as offensive coordinator at Arkansas and then two years at Illinois. Despite his offensive success at that university, there may be an adjustment period while he reorients himself with SEC football.
Paul Haynes replaces Willy Robinson at defensive coordinator, a position Robinson held for four seasons and Haynes has never held. While Haynes has good experience, coming off a six-year stint with Ohio State, he was never the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, only the co-defensive coordinator for one season. He may require an adjustment period not only for SEC football, but also for the role itself.
John L. Smith replaces Bobby Petrino and has the biggest shoes to fill of all. He does have experience as a head coach, but his highest profile job at Michigan State resulted in a 22-26 record over four seasons. He had better luck at Louisville, posting a 41-21 record over five years, but those are still results that he built over time.
Arkansas does not have time.
The program has acquired and accumulated the best players they have had in their entire history.This season, they have the potential to beat LSU and Alabama and not only claim the SEC title, but play for what Razorback Nation has held in their deepest fantasies since the 1964 Cotton Bowl: a national title.
The Razorbacks may have top 10 talent on the field, but if the new hires cannot become a top 10 coaching staff on the sidelines, it will be an opportunity wasted.