Think back, for just a moment, to when you were 21 years old (if you aren't already) and imagine this scenario.
Your performance on a 100 yard-long field of grass three hours a day, once a week, four months a year determines the pride and self-worth of an entire state of two million people.
Now, taking this scenario even further, imagine that your entire team's ups and downs will almost solely be attributed to you.
Oh, and just to throw it in for good measure, you have to follow in the footsteps of an All-SEC performer who owns a multitude of school passing records.
Hey, no pressure right?
Welcome to the life of newly minted Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson.
As the starting quarterback who is following Ryan Mallett and leading a team with national title aspirations in college football's toughest conference (SEC), skyrocketing pressure to perform at a Heisman-level is to be expected. Yet, the expectations come with one daunting reality that even Wilson must admit is true:
The success (or lack thereof) that the Razorbacks achieve in 2011 will rest on Tyler Wilson's shoulders.
Sure, Wilson may have helped heap some of these expectations on himself by passing for more than 8,000 yards and 93 touchdowns in his high school career, but the pressure didn't truly peak (before now) until he took the field on the road against the eventual national champion Auburn Tigers.
After the aforementioned Ryan Mallett was knocked out of the game early in the first half, coach Bobby Petrino turned to the unproven Wilson against an undefeated top-10 team on the road in conference play.
Not the kind of environment most coaches advocate sending their young quarterback in for the first time.
Yet, against all odds, Wilson didn't just show flashes of brilliance, he played years beyond his age while scorching the Tigers to the tune of 323 yards passing and four touchdowns in less than three quarters of play. Unfortunately, not all that started well ended well for the Greenwood, AR product, as Wilson threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter that sealed a 65-43 defeat.
That game was the the only one in which Razorback fans saw Wilson play for an extended period of time, and, despite the costly fourth quarter mistakes, many Hog supporters are downright giddy just dreaming what Wilson can do with an entire offseason spent under Petrino's tutelage as the presumed starter.
But, despite the excitement, all those involved in the Razorbacks program feel a constant, underlying tension that goes with putting their faith and trust in an unproved quarterback faced with seemingly insurmountable expectations.
The stories of tragedy were on full display in 2010 in the Swamp and in Longhorn country. After record breaking quarterbacks Colt McCoy (Texas) and Tim Tebow (Florida) used up their eligibility and headed to greener pastures in the NFL, Gators and Longhorns fans assumed that their successors would step right in and make for a seamless transition.
However, both McCoy's successor (Garrett Gilbert) and Tebow's successor (John Brantley) struggled immensely to live up to outrageous expectations and both squads suffered in the win-loss column as a result.
If you count yourself as one of the Arkansas faithful who will be "Calling the Hogs" this fall, you know that the same potential for an unmitigated failure in 2011 can happen under Wilson. It permeates your every thought about this upcoming season.
In addition, for every day-dream of a national title run, you may quickly get whipped back to reality when remembering how the same situation played out in Gainesville and Austin.
Yet, to be fair to the redshirt junior with the down-to-earth, aw-shucks personality, his situation is uniquely different from that of Gilbert's and Brantley's. Unlike Gilbert, Wilson spent ample time preparing and learning from Mallett and Petrino before ever being burdened with becoming the starter.
As Longhorns fans will surely (and unfortunately) remember, Gilbert was thrown into the fire as a true freshman in the BCS National Championship when McCoy when down with an injury. This means that Gilbert had less than one season to learn the system, adjust to the college game, and lead the Longhorns to victory in the biggest game in college football. Not exactly the way to develop a young quarterback
As for Brantley, he is a pure pocket passer who was born to be in a pro-style offense, but was forced to play in a spread offensive system that was antithetical to his strengths.
Fortunately for Hog fans, that is not the case in Fayetteville.
One Razorback coach recently told me that Wilson possesses both the arm strength and accuracy necessary to run the Razorback offense at an optimal level. In addition, though he is much more mobile than Mallett, Wilson possesses a similar pocket awareness and timely ability to feel the pass rush and distribute the ball to the plethora of playmakers the Razorbacks will suit up in 2011.
And, as mentioned earlier, he has had three seasons of watching, learning and practicing for this moment. The undeniable talent that Wilson possesses will be better groomed and polished than most quarterbacks enjoyed when being thrust into similar situations.
So, what does this all mean for the "woo pig sooie" faithful?
The potential for Wilson to never materialize into the quarterback many expect him to be will always be a constant and unalleviated fear until proven otherwise on the field. Yet, Wilson has the requisite talent and built-in advantages that give him an opportunity to succeed where others before him have failed.
But, as always, Wilson only has the hopes and aspirations of the Natural State riding on his every throw.
So, no pressure, right?