All eyes in the state of Arkansas are on Ryan Mallett, and they have been ever since he stepped on campus two years ago. Now, eyes from across the nation and the NFL are starting to also focus in on the 6'7" monster of a quarterback.
When Mallett transferred to Arkansas from the University of Michigan he became the hot topic in the Razorback Nation, and has been ever since. High expectations were thrown on Mallett before he ever took a snap in a Razorback uniform, and before he ever took a snap in a Wolverine uniform, for that matter.
As it is at nearly every major college football program, the starting quarterback alternates between being the fan favorite and the scapegoat, depending on how they play from week to week.
Just about a month ago many Hog fans were saying Mallett should be demoted and backup quarterback Tyler Wilson should get a chance. At that time the Hogs were coming off of a poor performance to Ole Miss, and sitting at the bottom of the SEC with a 3-4 overall record.
Since that time Mallett has completed close to 80 percent of his passes, and has broken or tied 10 Arkansas records. The most notable came against Troy, when Mallett surpassed Clint Stoerner as the Arkansas single-season passing record holder. With this success, he quickly became the hero of those same Razorback fans ready to toss him aside within a blink of an eye again.
Three games (including a bowl game) still remain, and Mallett has a handful of other records in his sights to be broken. But winning is all that matters to him at this point. Mallett has not even broken a smile as members of the media continue to mention the records he is breaking and is set to break before the end of the season. All that he continues to divert back to is winning games and executing the offense.
With that, he knows with confidence that the Razorbacks will continue to win games.
The success he has achieved thus far in the season has done nothing but raise expectations on the young redshirt sophomore quarterback. One of the hot topics: Will he go into the NFL Draft after this season (where some already project him to be one of the top quarterbacks on the board), or does he return to college and take Arkansas to a BCS bowl game?
Mallett will be Arkansas' first ever 3,000-yard single-season passer, doing it in his first year in the SEC and as a starting quarterback. ESPN projects Mallett to reach 3,462 yards passing before the completion of the season.
Currently Mallett sits third in the nation in quarterback efficiency rating. He has thrown an incredible 23 touchdown passes with only five interceptions. With all of his success comes more out-of-this-world sized expectations, such as being a Heisman front-runner going into the 2010 season.
The expectations keep growing with every sign of progress that Mallett and this Razorback team make. The desire of the fans to win the big games and make it to a BCS bowl game have been brewing for years. Acquiring Bobby Petrino, who had BCS success as head coach at Louisville, has added to this fire.
Arkansas fans want to win, and they want to win now.
The young Razorback team has not disappointed. They have reached bowl eligibility, and currently start more underclassmen than any other team in the SEC. Interestingly, the team has done this all with what ESPN ranks as the third most difficult schedule in the nation.
Returning that young talent next season has not only the fans, but also the team and recruits, believing the Razorbacks are a team on the rise. Expect to see most major sports outlets project the Razorbacks to be a top team in 2010 as well, and to heap preseason expectations as well as accolades onto Mallett.
Mallett's success almost mirrors that of Jevan Snead from a year ago at Ole Miss. However, his numbers are far better than the numbers Snead put up in 2008, and his progress as a quarterback is also more evident.
Students of the game can see that Mallett has improved his footwork, patience, and decision-making. He has made these improvements from game to game, and that is the reason he has improved the Razorback team as a whole.
It could be tomorrow or a week from now when Mallett has a bad game or shatters more records. Between now and the end of Mallett's career, expectations will only rise. Could he be the greatest quarterback ever to play for Arkansas? Will he take the Razorbacks to a championship?
Those are the questions being asked by Razorback fans everywhere. The answer is all up to Ryan Mallett and his team. If he continues to progress the way he has since stepping foot on campus, the sky really is the limit.
The ball is in his hands. What he does with it will tell us if he can meet or exceed expectations.
Image Courtesy of ESPN.com.