All-SEC tailback Dennis Johnson will anchor one of the strongest ground attacks in the SEC.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
2011 Record (SEC): 11-2 (6-2)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 15 (7/6/2)
Arkansas sports one of the NCAA’s more prolific air attacks in college football behind the arm of Heisman hopeful Tyler Wilson. The senior threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns to just six picks last season and looks ready to put up even bigger numbers this season after a stellar spring (1,600 yards, 16 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 69 percent completion rate). A potential first-round pick, Wilson will need to shore up his performance away from Fayetteville, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes and managing only four touchdowns to two picks in four road matchups last season. He’ll have All-SEC tailback Dennis Johnson to help take off some of the pressure, and he’s not even the front man in Arkansas stacked stable of workhorses. After missing all of 2011 due to injury, junior Knile Davis will return to the Razorbacks backfield as their featured runner. Rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010, Davis established himself as one of the most complete runners in the conference. With Johnson and the rest Arkansas’ backfield brings a combined 30 career touchdowns, and that doesn’t include the presence of talented newcomers like Jonathan Williams and Donovan Roberts. Some of the experience in the receiving corps is gone, but Cobi Hamilton and his career 17.9 yards per catch highlight a group that has a lot of potential. Sophomore Marquel Wade was the most productive wideout in spring and true freshman Keon Hatcher and D’Arthur Cowan give the youthful group a lot of talent on the wings. Senior Chris Gragg has exceptional hands at the tight end position, and should provide Wilson with a legitimate third-down threat.
The Razorbacks’ defensive front is very deep and should be the highlight of the unit. Juniors Bryan Jones and Robert Thomas highlight the middle where Arkansas can rotate six deep at tackle. Fellow junior Chris Smith gives Arkansas a legitimate pass rusher on the line, while "Tank" Wright could rotate between the end and inside linebacker position. Former junior college All-American Alonzo Highsmith had a strong inaugural SEC season, compiling 80 tackles, 12.5 for loss, five sacks and an interception. Highsmith has a chance to really break out this season and become one of the conference’s best linebackers. Although they graduated three players from the secondary, including leading interceptor Tramain Thomas, they do boast the return of All-SEC freshman Tevin Mitchell at corner and proven strong safety Eric Bennett. While the defense won’t win them any championships, they won’t have to with the offensive firepower on the roster. The playmakers they do return should keep contests close enough for Arkansas to win a lot of games in John Smith’s first year at the helm.
ROAD TO THE BCS
Being in the SEC West, they have one of the toughest roads to a national championship. Home matchups against both Alabama and LSU will be their biggest tests, but road tests at Auburn and South Carolina are nothing to shake a leg at either. They have the athletes to make a title run, but it’ll be no easy task for the Razorbacks.
BURNING QUESTION: How will Arkansas fare after Bobby Petrino’s quick exit this offseason?
Bobby Pertino helped establish Arkansas as an SEC offensive force to be reckoned with in his four years in Fayetteville, but after an abrupt end to a promising career with the Razorbacks there’s a new man at the coaching helm. John Smith is one of just 18 head coaches in college football history to lead three different teams to a bowl game, but struggled in his final three years at Michigan State with just a 14-21 record from 2004-06. His grasp on the job is far from secure (the Razorbacks have signed him to just a 10-month contract), but as defensive-minded coach he could make Arkansas a more balanced team in 2012. However, it might be difficult for Smith to fully invest himself in the program if the school is actively looking for his replacement during the season.
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