2011 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC (3rd in West)
2011 postseason: Cotton Bowl (29-16 win over Kansas State)
2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 5/No. 5
Head coach: John L. Smith (132-86 overall, first season at Arkansas)
Offensive coordinator: Paul Petrino (first season back at Arkansas as OC after spending two seasons at Illinois)
2011 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (137.4 ypg); 13th passing offense (300.7 ypg); 29th total offense (438.1 ypg); 15th scoring offense (36.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Paul Haynes (first season as Arkansas DC)
2011 defensive rankings: 74th rushing defense (167.6 ypg); 25th passing defense (195.2 ypg); 47th total defense (362.8 ypg); 33rd scoring defense (22.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: six
Location: Fayetteville, Ark.
Stadium: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (80,000; PowerBlade HP turf)
Last league title: 1989 (Southwest)
2011 statistics: [view]
For one, quarterback Tyler Wilson, one of the top players at his position in the country. Despite the loss of a handful of talented receivers, Wilson will still have plenty of returning talent to which to throw. Drawing the powerful combo of Alabama and LSU at home is certainly a plus, although playing the likes of those two national title contenders anywhere would certainly not qualify as a picnic at any level.
Take your pick as to the bad for the Razorbacks in 2012. The offseason soap opera that led to a change at head coach, with John L. Smith replacing the ousted Bobby Petrino on what’s presumed to be a one-year basis. Or there’s still having to get over that SEC West hump that consists of the annual matchups with Alabama and LSU. Or Knile Davis returning to full strength health-wise in the rugged SEC after a significant ankle injury prematurely ended his 2011 season. Arkansas certainly has the talent of a Top 10 team, but will it be able to successfully navigate all three of those obstacles, particularly the latter two?
Flip a coin between Davis staying healthy and maintaining his explosive self or the squad being able to get past the drama that was the Hogs’ offseason. Losing Petrino, merely from the offensive perspective and even with another Petrino at the steering wheel, is a huge blow that seems to have been pushed to the side by the presence of the verbose and ultra-confident Smith.
Make-or-break game: ???
Grab another coin, or the same one used above, and flip it again. Alabama Sept. 15? LSU Nov. 24? “Sir, would you like the steel-toed boot that’s hurtling toward your groin to be a size 12 or size 13?” The Razorbacks only two blemishes in 2011 were to the Tide and Tigers; the past three years, Arkansas has just one win in six attempts over the twosome. Until the Hogs can get past both, they’ll continue to be perennial SEC West also-rans.
Heisman hopeful: quarterback Tyler Wilson
3,648 yards passing and 24 touchdowns — against just six interceptions — while playing quarterback for a top-ten SEC team will certainly get you attention from the voters, and that’s certain to happen as the senior embarks on his final season with the Razorbacks. The loss of the man who put him into the position to be mentioned in Heisman talk will likely hurt, but the fact that Bobby Petrino’s brother Paul is the offensive coordinator can do nothing but soften the blow. Wilson expects no hiccups as a result of the coaching change; whether that’s the case will determine how deep into the season he remains a topic of Heisman conversation.