The Arkansas Razorbacks suffered many injuries and setbacks this season as the once-Top-10-ranked Hogs fell out of the national title conversation completely.
But where there is adversity there is opportunity, and the Razorbacks have some great players on both sides of the ball that contributed in big ways this season when their seniors were injured or suspended.
Here are five underclassmen who will make a big impact for the Razorbacks next season.
Otha Peters is a freshman linebacker from Covington, LA who featured for the Hogs in the last five games of the season.
He took over for linebacker Terrell Williams after Williams was suspended from the team for driving while intoxicated.
With the Hogs losing seniors Alonzo Highsmith and Williams, Peters has the potential to be the defensive centerpiece as the Razorbacks decipher what went wrong with their defense this season and how to rebuild going forward.
Peters logged 26 total tackles in the last five games, including eight each in the games against South Carolina and Mississippi State.
He also featured for the Hogs in their close game against LSU where the Hogs’ defense put in its most competent performance of the season against a top-ranked opponent.
With Peters getting that kind of experience as a freshman, he has the potential to be one of the defense’s stars next season.
Tevin Mitchel featured in 13 games including seven starts during his freshman year. He recorded 56 tackles and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. He was poised to make an even bigger impact during his sophomore season.
Then he got carted off the field during the Week 2 game against Louisiana-Monroe and had to have gallbladder surgery. He never quite recovered for the rest of the season and only featured in six more games.
One of the big “what-ifs?” for this Arkansas team is how many games they would have won if they had all of the defensive pieces in place and healthy for the full season.
One of the plus-sides of Arkansas not having to go to a bowl game is it gives players like Mitchel time to heal properly and come back stronger next season.
Hopefully with some time to fully heal, Mitchel will be one of the key players to help the Arkansas defense right the wrongs of 2012.
A.J. Turner is another freshman linebacker who had to step into a starting role this season due to injuries and other problem with Arkansas’ defensive personnel.
He had 10 total tackles in the game against Ole Miss and 12 in the game against LSU. He gave one of the breakout defensive performances in the game against the Tigers.
Arkansas’s defensive woes during the 2012 season will be an area of improvement for the next coaching staff, and a player like Turner will make that improvement easier and will lead to a stronger Arkansas defense next season.
Freshman running back Jonathan Williams is a star in the making at Arkansas.
He averaged 3.9 yards a carry or better in any game where he had at least five attempts.
His 150 receiving yards and two touchdowns during the Kentucky game demonstrated that the running back definitely has potential and will be a key figure in the Razorbacks’ offense next season in the absence of departing senior Dennis Johnson and possible departure of running back Knile Davis.
Should Davis stay for his senior season at Arkansas, Williams will be the No. 2 running back as Dennis Johnson was for the majority of the 2012 season. If Davis struggles to get his game back up to the standards of his freshman season, it is possible that Williams will become Arkansas’ primary ball-carrier.
For all of Arkansas’ problems on defense this season, Trey Flowers was not one of them. He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against Auburn where he recorded 3.5 sacks, a career high.
He also registered 10 total tackles in the game against LSU where the Hogs held the Tigers to 20 points and lost the game by a touchdown due to errors mainly on the offensive side of the ball.
Flowers will be a key figure in the 2013 season as the Razorbacks, along with their new coaching staff, work hard to get this program back on track.