- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
2011 record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2
All-time against Alabama: 8-12
Key losses: WR Jarius Wright, WR Joe Adams, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB/S Jerico Nelson, S Tramain Thomas
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dennis Johnson* (670 yards)
Passing: Tyler Wilson* (3,638 yards)
Receiving: Jarius Wright (1,117 yards)
Tackles: Jerry Franklin (101)
Sacks: Jake Bequette (10)
Interceptions: Tramain Thomas (5)
What they're saying: "It's pretty interesting to go back to my past, my first year at the University of Idaho. I was in Coach [John L.] Smith's first recruiting class there and my quarterback coach there was Bob Petrino. When you go through the past, it's kind of interesting. I still talk to Coach frequently. He's been a wonderful influence in my life. Obviously on that Saturday, I sure don't want to lose to him and I know he doesn't want to lose to me. It would be a little something special there. I'm excited for Coach that he got that opportunity. Obviously that's going to be a big, big game for us."
Three things to watch:
1. New face, familiar place: Say what you will about Bobby Petrino's personality and personal life, the man was a quality head coach and masterful offensive play-caller. While John L. Smith has a familiarity with the Hogs and the SEC, he's simply not on the same level of offensive mastermind as Petrino. That should make for a few less sleepless nights between Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. That said, Smith will be aided by a veteran team, led by a senior quarterback widely considered to be a potential first-round pick in next year's draft. How coaches and players mesh this fall will be paramount. Remember, this was a top-5 team before Petrino threw the Hogs wildly off course. If they can right the ship, they'll have a say in the SEC.
2. Offensive balance: Smith doesn't have to be a genius play-caller to make this offense work. Tyler Wilson is arguably the most talented quarterback in the league and Knile Davis -- if healthy -- has shown he's capable of being one of the best running backs in the country. Wilson will have to work with a relatively new group of receivers, but they'll find their way and the Hogs offense could turn out to be the best in the league.
3. The defense: What defense? Arkansas put up very little resistance last year on defense, surrendering 362 yards per game. Arkansas beat writer Robert Neismenger called it the team's biggest question mark. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes has made some changes in hopes of fixing a unit that finished ninth in the league in rushing defense. If they can tighten up the defense even a little bit, Arkansas will have a chance of challenging in the West. The offense will be there, but as Alabama and LSU have shown, you must have defense to be a serious contender for a national title.
7dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough