FanHouse's 2010 Preseason College Football Poll -- No. 21 Arkansas
Bobby Petrino is 5-11 after two years of SEC play, but in this third year Arkansas fans are more eager than they've been in years for the season to get here.
Now all that remains are the questions. Will Ryan Mallett lead the Razorbacks to their first SEC championship or will he become this year's version of Jevan Snead, another player who couldn't handle the scrutiny of preseason national attention?
Can Arkansas withstand the early challenges of the schedule and remain in contention for a division title throughout the season, or will it eliminate itself with an early collapse like last year's darling of the preseason, Ole Miss?
Given the outlandish optimism among Razorback fans, it's easy to forget that this was only an eight-win team last season -- one that needed tremendous good fortune to win the Liberty Bowl in overtime against East Carolina. But none of that matters, fans are already calling the Hogs in mid-August.
The Razorbacks believe they can win 11 games in a season, or more, for the first time in nearly two generations.
THE BASICS: Last year Arkansas rode the SEC's second-best offense and worst defense to a 3-5 league mark and a Liberty Bowl victory. While Arkansas' offense received all the attention it still wasn't ready for primetime against the two top teams in the conference, putting up a total of 27 points against Florida and Alabama. Granted, Razorback fans still have nightmares over the bogus personal foul call against Florida, but the reality was, for all the hype, this was a middling team in the 2009 SEC, one of five teams to finish the regular season 7-5.
KEY PLAYER YOU PROBABLY DON'T THINK OF AS A KEY PLAYER: The entire defense. Read any preview about Arkansas' 2010 team and 90 percent of the commentary is going to focus on Bobby Petrino, Ryan Mallett and the prodigious offense helmed by these two men. Scoring points is great, but to win an SEC championship in the BCS-era you've had to bring a top-echelon defense to the league. Last year, Arkansas gave up 401 yards per game and finished 12th out of 12 teams in overall defense. The defense won't be this bad again, but Alabama and Florida both gave up nearly 150 yards of total offense less per game than Arkansas did in 2009.
For all the Razorback talk, the defense may not be ready for primetime.
FLY IN THE OINTMENT: Back-to-back games in mid-September, on the road at Georgia and at home against Alabama. The Razorbacks will be underdogs in both games. Split and you're still alive for a potential SEC West championship. Lose both and you're never catching Alabama, the SEC West race is over. Win both and you can start thinking about making a run at the SEC title ... and maybe more.
DON'T MISS: Alabama vs. Arkansas on September 25th. Alabama is not going to lose more than two games in the SEC this fall, you can be pretty confident of that. If the Razorbacks lose this game, it's a 1 1/2 game loss when you factor in the division tiebreak. That's probably too much to overcome. Arkansas can still have a good season if they lose to the Crimson Tide on the last week in September, but the Razorbacks can't have a great season unless they take down the Tide.
PREDICTED RECORD: 8-4
FanHouse's Arkansas team page with schedule