The 2012 Arkansas Razorbacks are ready to get the season started. After an offseason filled with personnel moves and controversy, it will be a welcomed change of pace to be on the football field.
Despite the changes, the Razorbacks have all of the pieces in place and a favorable schedule that could result in a national championship game appearance in 2012.
It could easily be said that the Arkansas Razorbacks had the most difficult offseason of any team in college football.
The bad news started when then-head coach Bobby Petrino was involved in a motorcycle accident that revealed his affair with Jessica Dorrell, an Arkansas football staff member. It was more than an affair, as Petrino abused his position to give Dorrell a job and benefits. Petrino was dismissed as head coach and the football program was shocked by the turn of events.
Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of a despicable offseason.
Many players on the team became regulars on the police blotter. The most notable player was Marquel Wade, who was arrested and charged by the University of Arkansas Police Department with residential burglary(Via Arkansas Sports 360). Wade had become the sixth Razorback to be arrested in the offseason.
This put new coach John L. Smith in a tough spot. The scandal involving Petrino is a black mark on the school, and Smith had to make a statement by suspending or removing many of those players from the program.
With all of these problems behind the program, it is time for the school to focus on football.
The offense of the Razorbacks is the strength of this football team.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and if all goes well, he should be on the Heisman ballot at the end of the year.
Running back Knile Davis is healthy again and is ready to anchor a deep backfield with longtime Hog Dennis Johnson.
The wide receivers lost some serious talent, as three Razorbacks were taken in last year’s NFL draft. With graduation and the offseason turmoil, the Razorbacks lost seven wide receivers in less than six months. This left the Hogs looking for replacements. It is yet to be seen which Hog will rise to the occasion.
Cobi Hamilton should step up and fill the void, and the coaching staff has converted backup Brandon Mitchell into a full-time wideout that could become a household name by the end of the season.
The Razorbacks offense is ready to go and once again should be one of the best units in college football.
The biggest question mark for the Razorbacks is defense.
This has been a constant area of concern for the team over recent years. With the offense grabbing all of the headlines, the defense often became the target for scrutiny.
That could change this year with the changes that the Razorbacks have made. It all starts with new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, who is in charge of replacing defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas as he installs a new defense.
Haynes has started by moving Tenarius Wright from defensive end to linebacker, and he will team up with Alonzo Highsmith to form a terrific tandem. Highsmith is still recovering from tearing his left pectoral muscle, but when healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Bryan Jones, DeQuinta Jones and Robert Thomas will help up front in an attempt to stop the run, and if that can happen, the defense will begin to steal headlines from the offense.
Kicker Zach Hocker is the returning kicker for the Hogs, and he is rock-solid.
A year ago, the consistent kicker nailed nearly 78 percent of his field goals and proved that he could be counted on in nearly any scenario.
The kick returner position is another story.
Marquel Wade was slated to replace him, but he is no longer with the school. New special teams coordinator Steve Caldwell will have senior Dennis Johnson, Arkansas’ all-time leader in kick return yards, at his disposal.
The inexperienced Keante Minor will get some looks as punt returner, so there will be some setback in the position. Regardless of the changes, John L. Smith takes pride in special teams since he was the Hogs' prior coordinator and will make sure the team is ready for kickoff.
Replacing Bobby Petrino is a tall order. Despite his personal issues, Petrino elevated the football program to new heights.
John L. Smith was the short-term answer, as the school signed the coach to a 10-month contract. The move to sign Smith makes sense for the program.
He is familiar with the school and he could come in as coach without changing the direction of the program. Smith won over the crowds at SEC media days, and he gave the team consistency when it needed it most.
The phrase “Get your piss hot,” introduced by Smith to motivate the team, is sweeping Razorback nation. His attitude and approach is infectious, and the school is embracing its new coach.
So far, Smith has passing grades, but he will ultimately be judged by the performance of the team.
The Razorbacks' schedule is not easy, but that can be expected of any team that plays in the SEC.
The tough road slate includes games at Starkville against Mississippi State, Columbia against South Carolina and at Auburn against the Tigers.
As usual, the Razorbacks have games against Alabama and LSU, but this year, both games are at Fayetteville, which has fans giddy with thoughts of sweeping the two national powerhouses.
The schedule comes with plenty of hurdles, and it’s important that the Hogs don’t fall asleep in the soft spots if they want to have a successful year.
It would be very easy to select one of the early games as the one game that the Razorbacks will win, but there is another game on the schedule that stands out.
The one game that the Razorbacks absolutely will win is the game on September 15 against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The hogs have been eyeing this game ever since the schedule was released. Prior to the game against Alabama, the Razorbacks will have a pair of tune-up games against Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe.
That will allow the team to prepare for the Tide weeks before the game starts.
The edge will be on offense, as Tyler Wilson will be able to take advantage of a rebuilt secondary still learning the ropes.
Most importantly, the game is at Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks will be back by a rowdy crowd ready to finally take down Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
The Razorbacks will host LSU on November 23 in a game that will be a tossup. There is no doubt that this game could decide the SEC West.
The Razorbacks will have the home-field advantage, which is important in this crucial series, but Les Miles and the LSU Tigers always come to play.
With both teams playing for a potential spot in the SEC Championship and ultimately, a shot at a BCS berth, it will be the game to watch in college football.
The Razorbacks' toughest game is on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks. This is the one game that the Razorbacks could lose.
Steve Spurrier will have his team ready for this game, and it will be a very important spot for the Gamecocks as they attempt to win the SEC.
It is obvious that the games against Alabama and LSU are potential pitfalls, but the game on the road against South Carolina provides the biggest challenge for the Razorbacks.
The offensive MVP this season for the Razorbacks is Tyler Wilson. The Hogs will be lost if they lose Wilson to injury.
Wilson knows the offense like the back of his hand, and by the end of the year, he will be a front runner for the Heisman Trophy.
With all due respect to Knile Davis, who is also projected to have a great year, Wilson is the man on the Razorbacks offense.
The defensive MVP for the Razorbacks will be Tenarius Wright. Wright has had to adjust to a new position as he moved from defensive end to linebacker.
Wright is expected to pick up the slack while Alonzo Highsmith recovers from an injury, and he will excel in the new position. Wright is an outspoken leader on defense, and he will get better in every game as he stakes his claim to the defensive MVP.
The newcomer of the year will actually go to someone that has been on the team for years. That player is Brandon Mitchell, and he will be the newcomer of the year because he will emerge as one of the best wide receivers on the team.
Mitchell has changed positions and will go from playing backup quarterback to wide receiver. His transition to the new position has been seamless, and since he is in a new position, he will be the newcomer of the year.
The best NFL draft prospect on the Razorbacks is Tyler Wilson.
Wilson’s draft stock will rise throughout the year as he puts up big numbers in the passing game.
If the Razorbacks have the type of year that they are expected to have, it will be no surprise to see Wilson drafted in the first round of next year’s NFL draft. There is a chance that Wilson could be the very first pick overall.
The latest odds on the Arkansas Razorbacks are as follows:
Odds to win the BCS: 18-to-1
Odds to win the SEC: 7-to-1
Odds on Tyler Wilson to win the Heisman: 18-to-1
The Arkansas Razorbacks will be bowl bound in 2012. This team is too talented to miss out on a bowl game, and it has a realistic chance of playing in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on January 7.
The perfect bowl game for Arkansas is the AT&T Cotton Bowl. The game is in Arlington, Texas and will feature the SEC vs. Big 12. The Hogs are made for this game, but don’t be surprised if they are playing in Miami at the end of the season.
Arkansas fans have every reason to be excited about the upcoming season. The Hogs have a team loaded with talent, backed by a high-power offense that will be nearly impossible to stop.
With an improved defense and a big chip on their shoulder, the Hogs will come out fighting. The schedule lines up nicely with two home games against LSU and Alabama. The SEC is just too tough to go undefeated, so the Razorbacks will finish with a one-loss season.
Final Prediction: 11-1
James Brown is a B/R featured columnist and can be followed on Twitter. Feel free to contact James at email@example.com. He also is a contributor at Bookie Blitz, a sports picks website and the official blog of the World Series of Handicapping.