SEC Football 2008: Has Arkansas Hit The Jackpot?

John StevensCorrespondent IApril 25, 2008

Welcome to SEC football.

This is the toughest, most difficult conference in which to compete week in and week out.

It is not unusual to see the one team that wins this conference championship heading to the national championship game with one loss, due to the degree of difficulty that a team experiences in running the gauntlet that is SEC football.

The Big 12 has its tough teams, as does the Pac-10, ACC, Big Ten and all the other BCS Conferences. But no conference offers the parity of competition at such a high level every week as does the SEC.

We will discuss the Arkansas Razorbacks in this article. Of the most notable coaches that are joining the fray this fall in the SEC will be Bobby Petrino as the new head coach at Arkansas.

Citing his desire to leave the business-like NFL and the Atlanta Falcons and return to college football, Petrino accepted an offer made by Arkansas last December. Houston Nutt, the Razorbacks' coach in 2007, accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Ole Miss after the dismissal of Ed Orgeron.

Bad blood had developed at Arkansas between Nutt and the fan base, and perhaps the administration as well, after several very forgettable and unfortunate incidents that were alleged to have occured.

As with many things in life, whether true or not, perception becomes reality and after a 10-year stay at Arkansas and a slightly above average winning percentage, it was simply time for Nutt to move on.

The search for a coach ensued and after much deliberation by the administration and public speculation that they had been turned down by other coaches, Bobby Petrino was offered and accepted the position. Petrino is widely known and respected as being an offensive genius in college football and his tenure at Louisville would certainly support that.

Whatever else happens, one can expect that Arkansas will continue to have a strong and productive offense, but perhaps with a less conservative approach.

One of the things that Petrino is known for is improving the play of quarterbacks. The productivity of QB's increased significantly from the year prior to his arrival to his first year at Louisville and passing yards increased to over 3,000 yards each season that he spent at Louisville.

Don't be deceived into thinking that he is simply a passing guru because the running game at Louisville also improved. His system requires a QB to be thinking and performing at top levels consistently, reading defenses, checking off plays, calling audibles, taking advantage of whatever the defense gives in terms of alignment and scheme.

At Bobby Petrino's "QB University", a QB cannot earn a "B" and expect to play. Petrino brought in Garrick McGee to be the QB Coach on his staff. McGee was formerly the offensive coordinator at Northwestern in the Big Ten.

When I first saw this I wondered why McGee, as an offensive coordinator at a Big Ten school, would take a perceived step down to become the QB Coach at Arkansas?

It turns out that McGee began his relationship with Petrino at Arizona State, McGee's first stop in college as a QB. McGee has stated that the reason that he came to Arkansas to be on Petrino's staff was because he wanted to eventually become a head coach and he thought he could learn a great deal from Petrino, but that he also wanted to win and he knew that would happen Petrino.

One of McGee's current pupils is Casey Dick, the returning starter at QB. This is Dick's fourth offensive coordinator in four years and having to constantly re-adapt to every new OC is a steep hill to climb.

What has and will help Dick in the future is that he tutor, McGee, also had four OC's in four years of college football at the same position.

This has been a tremendous asset to Arkansas already.

Dick has never thrown for 300 yards in any game in his college career. Yet, in every scrimmage so far this spring, Dick has thrown for over 300 yards on every occasion. On top of that, his completion percentage is up over 60 percent.

This is a huge step for QB who hardly was able to practice the forward pass with any consistency in the last three seasons. Granted, this is spring and not the regular season, but you can expect big things from Casey Dick this season for two reasons, Bobby Petrino and Garrick McGee.

Waiting in the wings is Ryan Mallett, a transfer from Michigan that hails from Texarkana, Texas. He made appearances in 11 games for Michigan last year but was only 61-141 for a 43 percent completion percentage, but had eight TD's and five INT's mainly in relief duty.

He is a proto-typical Pro style QB and with sitting out a season and going through the Petrino school for QB's, you can expect him to be greatly improved next year when he will most likely be eligible to play.

Arkansas returns three starters along the offensive front and others who have had playing extensive experience. They expect the O-Line to be one of their strengths to include All American center Jonathon Luigs. This will be a huge offensively line with everyone tipping the scales at 300+ lbs.

WR is an area they expect to be greatly improved as well and there is talk that incoming freshmen who are tall and fast could add a lot of depth and talent to this position. Look for Ben Cleveland and London Crawford as well as both TE's to emerge as stars.

Running back is where there is a huge wake left by the departure of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Possibly the three best backs in one single backfield in the entire country have left for the NFL draft this weekend.

Arkansas is struggling to find replacements that will be at the very least, adequate and consistent and they may not actually find the answer until the fall with incoming freshmen. This is a huge question mark for Arkansas.

The kicking game is solid with true sophomore Alex Tejeda. Look for this kid to become a well-known name. He is now accurate from 45 yards out. Petrino says he wants him accurate from 55 yards out and he is working on it. He should be an All-SEC player next year.

On defense, what was once thought to have been a weakness has become a strength, the secondary. After the intense schooling of the DC, Willy Robinson (another NFL transplant), the secondary has become the strength of the defense.

You can expect these ball hawks to not only grab their share of picks this year, but to lay the wood to unsuspecting receivers who dare venture into their territory across the middle.

Look for former NFL All Pro and Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris' son, Matt, to start at FS. We hear he is a "chip off the old block" at lowering the boom on receivers. Could he be "Captain Crash" revisited?

The defensive line is supposed to be another area of strength and it is my understanding that these guys are being re-made into "mansters". Arkansas expects that their D-Line will be a dominating force come this fall.

The weakness on defense appears to be at LB where they lost one to injury, one to graduation, one to yet unresolved judicial issues. They expect a good core of LB's, but depth is an issue for Arkansas at this position and they are working to find solutions.

How good will Arkansas actually be? That is yet to be determined. But with a schedule that is the third toughest out of conference but only the 10th most difficult out of twelve teams in the SEC for in conference play, this season might set up quite nicely for Petrino and company.

Expect Arkansas to be a better all around football team in terms of fundamentals and conditioning than they have been in the past. You can also expect them to be more consistent in terms of their play. They could wind up anywhere from 8-4 to 10-2 in the regular season.

That's just my take from outside the boundaries.


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