State of the Hogs: Near Perfection

Our preseason Top 10 List on how Arkansas could go 12-0 deserves a rewind. A few things didn't happen, but most fell in place in an impressive 10-2 campaign.

I like to do a rewind of our Top 10 Lists of Things to Watch from each week. Sometimes it's best to go back to the summer and see what the thought process was then and how it worked out.

With the regular season done at 10-2 with a No. 8 national ranking in both major polls, here's that Preseason Top 10 with a little summary in italics on how it developed:

Preseason Top 10 List
(Published Aug. 19)

I love me some top 10s. I usually stay up for David Lettermen's first 30 minutes before I start dreaming about beating Georgia, Alabama or Ole Miss.

So why not find my own top 10? How about the 10 reasons why Arkansas could sweep those three SEC foes? I've got ‘em and unlike past seasons, the idea isn't that farfetched.

Arkansas could go 12-0. It won't, but there are reasons why it could. I can see winning every game. I can also see some that they probably won't win.

But in this space today, it's going to be the top 10 reasons the Hogs will win them all.

1 - Ryan Mallett
No one in the SEC has anyone like him. He's healthy, mentally focused and having a great fall camp. This is about the time Mallett took off on a tear. I expect that to happen any day now. He's been getting sharper by the day. He's the number one reason the Hogs could go 12-0 this season. Every coach in the SEC (or the country) would take Mallett in a heartbeat. He's as good as there is in college football.

Post-season rewind: Mallett was as good as advertised. He didn't play well in the fourth quarter against Alabama and got knocked out of the Auburn game in the first half and couldn't finish that marathon (two weather delays) against Ole Miss. But he was superb in November. He got better and better.

2 - Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Cobi Hamilton, De'Anthony Curtis, Lance Ray, Maudrecus Humphrey, Marquel Wade, Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon
That's a top 10, too. No school in the country has a wideout group that dazzles more every day in practice. You could spend an entire day of practice just watching the UA wideouts and have an awesome time. This group is deep and talented and well coached. They are weapons.

Post-season rewind: Greg Childs was superb until an injury took him out of the Vandy game and ended his season. That was the point of listing 10 wide receivers in preseason. This was an incredibly deep group and new coach Kris Cinkovich did a nice job. He prepared the backups well. Enter Cobi Hamilton when Childs went down. Marquel Wade didn't make it to the start of the season because of academic problems. Jarius Wright and Joe Adams were steady and sometimes spectacular. Many thought this was the best collection of wide receivers in the country. It was easily the best in the SEC.

3 - Alfred Davis, Dede Jones, Lavunce Askew, Patrick Jones, Byran Jones and Zack Stadther
It's the best defensive line the Hogs have put on the field this century. (Yeah, I know, the century isn't very old. But it's a nice phrase to make a point.) You aren't going to make it far in the SEC without defensive tackles. That's the main difference between this Bobby Petrino team and his first two. You are going to love Alfred. He's a 320-pounder with ability to run. He's added stamina. He might be as good an SEC player as there is on this team.

Post-season rewind: Yep, as advertised. This group got better and better. Alfred Davis didn't explode like I thought, but Byran Jones might have been better than I expected. An ankle injury got Jones in November, but he started against LSU and played well. The Hogs were a match for LSU's offensive line with these interior tackles. That's saying quite a lot.

4 - Jake Bequette, Damario Ambrose, Tenarius Wright and Chris Smith
The Hogs are toying with the idea of putting Bequette, Ambrose and Wright on the field at the same time. I'd use all four of them at the same time in third-and-long. Bequette is much improved. I've always liked his long, lean frame and ability to run. But he looks like he's finding the ball better now. He is poised for a breakout junior year and the others may be right on his heels. The secondary is going to love some of the hurried tosses they see with these guys chasing the quarterback. One of Petrino's keys to playing defense is to hit the quarterback. That's going to happen this season.

Post-season rewind: Yep, as advertised, perhaps the strength of the defense. They disappeared in the Auburn game, but Cam Newton can turn you into a ghost. Or, better yet, he is a ghost. Chris Smith never caught fire in his true freshman campaign, but Colton Nash-Miles was good enough to give the Hogs plenty of depth. Wright started the year banged up, but he was on fire by November. Bequette had a nice year and was one of the clear leaders of this defense. As he said after the LSU game, "This was the unit that was supposed to hold this team back and we didn't do that." And this was the part of the defense that made sure that didn't happen.

5 - Improved kicking
I believe that is finally going to become a reality. Competition makes the world rotate. It also makes a football team better. Alex Tejada will have to be a better kicker if he's to get on the field. And if he makes a mistake, Eddie Camara will be waiting in the wings. Both appear to be more than adequate to win games through the first two weeks of camp. Camara is already a better kicker than I've seen this century at Arkansas. (Sorry, I did it again.) No one wins them all without great kicking. The Hogs have more parts to have a great kicking game and that's a great sign.

Post-season rewind: So much for the Eddie Camara prediction. Got that wrong. But got the conclusion right. Just didn't know it was going to be Zach Hocker having a standout year. Dylan Breeding had a good season, too, except for the dropped snap against LSU and a blocked punt against Auburn. Otherwise, this was one of the team strengths. That was a definite improvement.

6 - Unlock the safety
That's what I think has happened with the Arkansas defense. There are safeties ready now. Tramain Thomas, Elton Ford and Rudell Crim all look like SEC players to me. If they can help eliminate the big play, this Arkansas team could win every game. That would be just the improvement the Hogs need to get over the hump.

Post-season rewind: Yep, as advertised. Tackling was better, especially from Thomas and Ford. Crim had a little trouble at the end of the season, perhaps because of some nagging injuries. Thomas was one of the leaders of the defense. He made big plays against South Carolina and Mississippi State. This group held one of the big keys to the season and it stepped up in almost every game.

7 - DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez
Switching Love to the weak side and Dominguez to the strong might have been the trick to solidify this offensive line. They are solid SEC tackles at their current spots. Love is an All-SEC type as a backside protector. Keeping Mallett clean could lead to a 12-0 season.

Post-season rewind: Oh, man. These guys were real men. It's always sweet to put two senior tackles on the field with three years of SEC starts in the tank. Dominguez had problems with false starts, but he was solid as a pass protector and teamed well with the tight ends on the weak side. Love was something to love all year. He proved to be a wrecking crew against South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU in the November domination with the running game.

8 - Nastiness
That's what they say Chris Klenakis brings to the offensive line. If this bunch is truly nasty, it might be the last piece to the puzzle. There's nothing wrong with a nasty group up front to spring loose Dennis Johnson, Ronnie Wingo, Broderick Green and Knile Davis. Oh, wouldn't Bobby Petrino at the SEC title game be a nasty blow to all of those folks in Atlanta. A big year from the O-line could make it happen.

Post-season rewind: Knile Davis was the beneficiary of the nasty play of the offensive line. It didn't happen until they were stoned by the Texas A&M defense in what DeMarcus Love thought was the turning point game for the offensive line. But they got nastier every week after the trip to Cowboys Stadium. They were just plain nasty in the fourth quarter against LSU.

9 - D. J. Williams, Chris Gragg, Ben Cleveland, Austin Tate, Garrett Uekman, Brad Hefley, Van Stumon.
It's the deepest tight end group in the country to match the deepest wideout group. There are blockers, pass catchers and some that do all of the above. Cleveland is probably the most forgotten man on the team and he's a solid SEC tight end ready for a great final season.

Post-season rewind: Yep, as advertised. Wow is the right word to describe the way D. J. Williams, Ben Cleveland and Van Stumon played as seniors. All three were outstanding. Stumon was the unsung hero of this group, playing fullback and H-back. He probably played his way onto at least a free agent tryout with an NFL team and might be drafted. Williams might be the best tight end in the country. Cleveland was outstanding, too. Austin Tate is going to be a good one, too. The Hogs used him in several key moments and he never disappointed as either a lead blocker or an extra blocker in pass protection. Garrett Uekman had a standout redshirt season, turning heads on both the practice field and the weight room. He's going to be special. Hefley had some trouble with concussions and his future as a football player is in jeopardy.

10 - Bobby Petrino
He came to the Ozarks advertised as the best playcaller in college football. He hasn't done anything to tarnish that reputation. And he's quietly gone about the task of doing much more to restore the pride in Razorback Nation. He shouldn't be expected to take this team to a 12-0 season, but he might!

Post-season rewind: Well, this one was a no brainer from the start. He's excited the Razorback Nation beyond expectations in just three seasons. He's more than a playcaller -- and that's not to take anything away from that part of his coaching ability. He can prepare a team for the long haul of the season. He knows how to build depth. He knows to recruit. He's a detail man in all respects, a coach to rival Frank Broyles, the man who took Arkansas to the mountaintop in the 1960s. To put it simply, Petrino is the right man at the right spot.

All of this should carry an asterisk. It's not a prediction of a 12-0 season. I went on record this week with a forecast of a 9-3 regular season with a bowl win.

But if they somehow catch fire -- and are poised to do that -- I also want to be on record with something that hinted that I saw it coming. I'll have this with 10 big reasons.

Post-season rewind: The Hogs led in the fourth quarter of all 12 games. They could have won them all. They got some bad breaks at Auburn with poor officiating and some bad bounces. But even that game produced hope and promise with the way Tyler Wilson performed when Ryan Mallett was injured. The defense was the big question mark heading into this season and it stepped up as the season progressed to the point that LSU found nothing in the second half in the regular-season finale. I'd like to say we saw this coming, but perhaps even Ray Charles would have seen it coming.

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