You know it’s almost football season when hundreds of dishevelled, free-meal seeking Spartans of the Spell Check descend on Birmingham for SEC Media Days and immediately start Twitter bashing only somewhat deserving coaches while glad-handing them in the halls of the Wynfrey Hotel.
And, BlogHawgs Nation knows football season is nigh when I break out my digital bluebook and answer the pressing Hog-related questions of the day via an annual homework assignment (or two)from my long-time friend, Rev’d. Andrew C. Thompson. (Rev’d ACT)
Thankfully, it’s that time, again.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: These questions were submitted before Bobby Petrino went into the ditch and then lied A LOT. As a result, they are refreshingly free of the stench of Ridiculous Neck Brace Press Conference Gate)
Rev’d ACT: Is the Butler in? I’ve got some questions.
The Hogs’ 2011 campaign has to be considered one of the best we’ve had in the past 30 years. 11 wins, a Cotton Bowl victory, and a top 5 finish are nothing to sniff at. And that’s especially the case when you consider that our only 2 losses were to the teams who played each other for the national championship.
But just like any season, there are questions up in the air about how things will look this fall. Mr. Butler, I’m counting on you to answer them.
Clearly, the Hogs lost a talented bunch of receivers when they bid adieu to Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs. Thankfully we’ve got a lot still in the cupboard, with the likes of Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg, Javontee Herndon, et al. Is the talent level enough to ensure that we aren’t going to see a drop-off in the passing game? And do these guys really have the gravitas of Adams and Wright? I’m worried.
AB: With today’s news that a quartet of (now former) Hogs (including WRs Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey) will no longer be with the team, I share some of your concerns. Hamilton & Gragg could be All-SEC performers, and will likely be selected for those preseason honors. The key to whether they garner the same postseason accolades may well hinge on the emergence of a few old hands, and a newcomer or two. Herndon and Julian Horton have seen live bullets, but have largely been wall flowers out of deference to Wright, Adams and Childs.
Can Herndon or Horton become a serviceable threat? I’m not sold on them. I reserve the right to immediately change my opinion on the basis of a solid outing versus a directional school.
My pick to click is JUCO transfer WR Demetrius Wilson from Glendale (AZ) Community College. I have been burned by premature excitement over JUCO transfers before (SEE Leon, Anthony, “Juice”) but Wilson looks to be capable of making an immediate impact.
Unlike most JUCO athletes, Wilson appears to be a technician. His routes are precise, and at 6’2, 170, 4.4 he has some nice measurables. He is a few biscuits from being a player who could have gone to any program in ‘Merica. Look for him to start opposite Cobi and get a shot at punt return duties.
In sum, Arkansas’ passing game will be fine if Hamilton & Gragg are as good as advertised, a 3rd receiving threat emerges, and Knile Davis’ ankles are fortified by a continuous sideline Ensure IV drip.
Rev’d ACT: Let’s assume Knile Davis stays healthy (knocking on wood furiously). How should
BMFP (oops, SEE ABOVE) John L. Smith utilize him together with Dennnis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo, Jr.? In 2010, he seemed like the kind of guy who got stronger the more carries he had. But relegating a talent like D.J. to 4 or 5 carries a game seems a waste. We need a strong running game to complement what Tyler Wilson is going to do through the air. Is it as simple as giving D.J. his handful of carries and then just letting him return kicks? (Note: Please don’t use either “broken ankle” or “bowel injury” in your response. Both make me cringe.)
AB: I apologize for the Ensure/ankle joke. Would you believe I made it before reading this question? ‘Tis true. IF the RBs stay healthy, I look for an NFL-type split (65/35?) of the carries. I could see DJ getting the 3rd series (almost like the seemingly mandatory appearance of the 2nd-teamers at the end of the 1st quarter of a NBA regular season game….nevermind–no one watches those). DJ should again be a weapon in the kicking game, unless he
bowels bows out of that role (OK, THAT was unnecessary).
I expect DJ will reprise the KO return role and again do it well. Wingo should score 4-5 touchdowns on wheel routes and mop-up runs and a large portion of the Hog fans will find flaw in whatever he accomplishes, even though he made one of the biggest plays of 2011–a real season-turner.
Rev’d ACT: Talk to me about the defense. Talk to me especially about our pass rush without Jake Bequette. Talk to me about stopping the run without Jerry Franklin. And reassure me that the secondary is going to be okay without Jerico Nelson. Convince me that this new guy from Ohio State is going to take us to the place that Willy Robinson was supposed to and never did. And make me believe that the Hogs’ D is not going to be an Achilles heel for the first time in the
BMFP JLS era.
AB: I actually think the defense will be better if a few thin (in terms of depth) spots are not exposed by the injury bug. As for the first of your specific concerns, the Hogs are counting on strength in numbers at DE. They have recruited the position heavily and have metamorphosed it into one that looks like a SEC-caliber unit getting off of the bus.
JUCO transfer Austin Flynn, if nothing else, should (along with Tyler Wilson) fill the “handsome guy that Brent Musberger calls by his first name” quota for the Hogs. It helps that he also looks like a Bequette clone in his highlight reel. Chris Smith was a beast in the Cotton Bowl and will look to show that he isn’t just a pass rusher. Trey Flowers’ Oliver Millerian wing span (focus on the Big O’s pic, not the pistol-whipping) should come in handy.
But more than anything else, the move of senior All-SEC caliber defensive end Tenarius “Tank” Wright from End to linebacker tells me the UA brain trust is comfortable with the DEs.
The LBs? Eh. There’s my concern. Franklin was a producer, albeit a sometimes frustrating one. Alonzo Highsmith has shown he can play and should be back to full strength after an injury cost him all of spring practice.
Tank is…a tank. But will he have the conditioning to avoid getting blown up? Will he have his DL’s “Six” or will he tire and all-too-often give up 6? This may be the key question with this defense.
On the back end, the secondary is sneaky good. Tevin Mitchel (no typos) isn’t such a “Little T” anymore and looks like a coachable, emerging star who has a “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do” attitude. (I’m fired.)
Darius Winston (the “Batman Carroll Memorial ‘Better Than He is Given Credit for Because of Obscene Expectations’ Award Winner) will be a pro. Book it. Eric Bennett can hit you. Ross Rasner certainly will draw obligatory white guy comparisons to Tony Bua and should make plays as a hybrid.
Defensive Coordinator Paul Haynes plans to keep it simple and put his best 11 tacklers on the field. That should help. And, while Petrino seemingly treated defense as a barely palatable, necessary evil, JLS is an old (no, really, he’s old) LB coach by trade. Translation: Attention to detail may actually become a trademark of this defense, too.
Rev’d ACT: Does Tyler Wilson emerge as an early Heisman candidate? Do we even want him to (considering the Hogs never seem to play as well when they are the favorites for anything)? And what do you think the chances are that he makes a name for himself in the NFL before Ryan Mallett does?
AB: Like any good attorney, my answer is, “it depends”. Tyler will be a Heisman candidate until Arkansas loses, so , yes, we want him to be a candidate. Once the Hogs drop a game, he will be tossed aside in favor of a much better self-promoter with an inane nickname.
Likewise, his pro potential depends on his landing spot. Luckily, he seems to have avoided picking up any small skeletons for his trophy closet that could be used to his detriment while other media darlings’ perceived transgressions are overlooked.
Yes, I understand that last sentence read like I have been hitting on the Honey Badger’s ALLEGED stash. My apologies. Look for Mallett to be touted next offseason as the next Drew Bledsoe and smoothly flipped for a few solid draft picks.
Rev’d ACT: The Hogs’ schedule looks pretty favorable this year. We’ve got LSU and Bama at home, which is a ‘must’ if we are going to have any chance to win the SEC West. The two toughest stretches are the pair of back-to-back away games – Texas A&M/Auburn and South Carolina/Miss State (which is followed by LSU, of course). What is your prediction on where we finish both in league play and overall? Is it realistic to think that we will ever beat both LSU and Bama in the same year?
AB: I currently have the Hogs pegged at 9-3 with losses to Bama, TAMU and USCE. There has been too much drama and change (to go with a bunch of road “swing” games) to run the table.
As for a Bama/LSU sweep, you are a theologian and (were?) a Prince fan….the only theologian who is/was a Prince fan.
As such, you know that forever is “a mighty long time”. But, I mean to tell you. There’s something else….recent history.
Consider: Arkansas is 8-12 versus LSU the last 20 years and 6-8 the last 14 years. Corn Dog dominance that is not, particularly when you consider that four of those losses have come by a combined 13 points.
Smelly LSU fan rhetoric notwithstanding, since 1998, Arkansas is 5-2 versus LSU in The Natural State, and one of those 2 losses was the see-saw DMac/Trindon Holliday dual that Arkansas lost by 5 points.
My point is that the Arkansas/LSU series has been much, much closer than drunken LSU fans, ESPN talking heads and Bobby Boucher would have you believe–especially in Arkansas.
Bama is a different story. They have mind control over the Hogs since Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa.
But, little do they know that JJ Meadors, a new recruit named Sal Monella, an actual 12th Hog on the field, Leigh Tiffin’s freshman season kicking shoe and every other whiny, loss-rationalizing, son-shooting causing Bama excuse will be on hand September 15th for the Hogs/Tide showdown in Fayetteville. If only Mike Shula would attend….
Unfortunately, though, my short answer is yes, a Bama/LSU sweep by the Hogs will happen sometime before the fall of Western Civilization, but not this Fall.
Rev’d ACT: Give me your prediction on the year in which each of these events will occur: A. The Hogs win a national championship in football; B. Razorback stadium expands to become a bowl and seat 90,000+ people; C. Regular season games are no longer played in Little Rock; D. The SEC expands again, to the dismay of millions; E. Bobby Petrino leaves the UA either for retirement or another gig; F. A Razorback wins the Heisman trophy; G. Kirk Herbstreit loses his obvious and obnoxious Big-10 bias; and H. Arkansas puts Arkansas State on the non-conference football schedule.
AB: A. The Hogs will win a NC in 2022 as a 12-seed in a 64-team playoff; B. RRS will expand to 90k in 2016. Everyone knows that the “rabid” NWA fan base will come out in droves now that (for big games) they don’t have to eschew their Saturday brunch to (not actually) drive the exhausting 2.5 hours to Little Rock and slum with the other 99%;
C. All UA games will move to NWA as soon as the current War Memorial Stadium contract expires; D. The SEC will expand again as soon as the new (currently being negotiated) SEC TV contract is no longer the envy of the CFB world;
E. (&*^!@); F. Arkansas’ first Heisman winner will be named in 2015. Altee Tenpenny. Yup, I said it, Bama fan; G. Kirk will always love the Big 10, even though the league members hate him so badly he had to move to Music City to maintain the B10 love; H. Arkansas will never schedule ASU….unless it’s Arizona State….for the same reasons ASUe won’t schedule UCA. It’s a simple cost/benefit analysis.
Rev’d ACT: Finally, a question about rivalries. One of the things the Hogs have lacked since entering the SEC in 1992 is a true football rivalry. I’ve enjoyed having South Carolina as our permanent eastern opponent, especially since Steve Spurrier became head coach there. But the geography has never made sense for it to evolve into a true rivalry game. The “Battle of the Boot” tradition with LSU was created to become a rivalry; I actually think the competitive nature of the game in recent years has done a lot to overcome the “manufactured” nature of it. But the problem we have with LSU is the same problem we always had with Texas: we think of it as much more of a rivalry than the Tigers do.
So that leads me to our new SEC colleagues in Texas A&M and Missouri. I know there’s been a lot of controversy over their entrance into the league. But look at it just from point-of-view of the potential rivalry factor! We’ve got the history with Texas A&M from SWC days (and in just a few years’ time, we will have played the Aggies more than any other single opponent). And we’ve got the border connection with Mizzou (whose campus will be closer to Fayetteville than any other SEC school). If Mike Anderson can get the basketball Hogs back into 1990s form, we’ll also have the Hoops angle with Mizzou as well.
So that’s the long way around to asking this: Do we have a true SEC rival right now? If not, do you think TAMU or Mizzou has the potential to become one? And is there any truth to the rumors that the SEC is going to make Mizzou our permanent eastern rival in the next couple of years??
AB: I think games make rivalries. A&M has/had the potential to be a Hog rival, but they went 0-for Jerry World. I anticipate they will win a few in College Station and that series will have added intrigue. But, I also think that much like when the 2 were in the SWC, A&M fans will think (yes, I am using the word loosely) they are above being Arkansas’ rival.
The Missouri series could get nasty. They will become Arkansas’ “permanent” SEC East rival next year, and a few trips up to Mizzou’s shoddy Faurot Field, coupled with the Tigers’ undeserved sense of program worth will be enough for Hog fans to want to whip the Tigers.
The problem is that Mizzou just isn’t ready for the SEC. Trust me on this. Their program is about to “Show Me” the Mediocrity. Mizzou QB James Franklin’s range of motion (shoulder surgery) has to be a big question mark, and Head Coach Gary Pinkel’s mouth is already writing checks an Auburn recruit’s Dad can’t cash, errrrr request.
See…THAT is how rivalries are made–with gratuitous, non sequiturs/shots at TWO member institutions with Tigers for mascots.
I’m in mid-season form. But for now…………. I’m spent. Thanks for reading.