State of the Hogs: Good Times

There are plenty of strengths for Razorback fans to look forward in 2011 football season. How do they say it in New Orleans?

Bobby Petrino will meet with the media Friday afternoon to deliver what's billed as the season wrapup. In my mind, it's more the start of 2011 talk.

Not that I want to run from the just completed 10-3 campaign. I will not quickly forget about the walk from my hotel at the corner of Bourbon and Canal to the Louisiana Superdome before the Sugar Bowl. The anticipation of the throngs of Arkies that drowned out the Ohio State fans on that walk was pure joy.

There was the Buckeye who shook his head in amazement and called those in the darker red "newbies" to the BCS party. Maybe so, but there were some old-timers in those Razorbacks who had been to New Orleans before.

They remembered the 1960s and what it was like to play there opposite an SEC power and it was awesome to be the "home" team in the Sugar Bowl for once. And make no mistake, the dark red in the Superdome was four-to-one over Ohio State's cherry red.

An LSU fan told me in the fourth quarter, "This is the way we make the Superdome sound."

A lot of things will have to happen right for the Hogs to go back, but the great news that all of Razorback Nation knows even before spring drills is that it can happen soon and without a miracle. Petrino will tell us all the things that need to be done in the next 11 months to get back to New Orleans, but he won't shy away from that goal. We already know he's not afraid of expectations.

There's a lot of good news for him to address Friday. It'll start with the solid competition that exists throughout the depth chart. There are no longer massive voids in either talent or experience that greeted him three years ago. And there are some strengths that didn't exist when he arrived.

Here are the strengths as I see them:

1. Offensive studs: Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson, Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Cobi Hamilton, Chris Gragg.

2. Talent at quarterback: Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell, Jacoby Walker.

3. Solid kickers: Dylan Breeding, Zack Hocker. Do not minimize this one.

4. Explosive defensive ends: Jake Bequette, Tenarius Wright, Colton Miles-Nash, Chris Smith.

5. Experience and size at defensive tackle: Dede Jones, Zach Standther, Lavunce Askew, Alfred Davis, Byran Jones.

Petrino's task is to find leadership, one of the strengths of last year's team. Ryan Mallett, DeMarcus Love, Damario Ambrose, Ramon Broadway, D.J. Williams and Van Stumon provided the standards for the junior class to follow this coming season. And it's a great class. Johnson will likely get his junior year back following early-season surgery, but there are 20 others who will step into senior status and leaders are strong throughout.

The defense will follow Jerico Nelson, Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas and Bequette. On offense, there is a host of leaders at the skill positions, perhaps starting with Davis, a great example even as a sophomore with his impressive practice and study habits.

That's not to say everything is perfect. There is work to do in the offensive line, where two tackles graduated. Ray Dominguez and Love toiled where few watched and did it well. Grant Freeman, listed as the backup on both sides last fall, can man one of those spots, but the Hogs will have to have one more tackle ready before they go to Alabama on Sept. 24.

Petrino won't be able to give us the name of that second tackle Friday. But maybe he can tell us how Anthony Oden, Tyler Deacon or Brey Cook have started the offseason workouts.

There are more concerns. In an informal poll of subscribers at HawgsIllustrated.com's message board, many hoped they would hear of improvement at linebacker, specifically better playmakers against running quarterbacks, before the end of spring drills.

There don't seem to be doubts over quarterback, but that might be more related to supreme confidence in Petrino and quarterback coach Garrick McGee than just a few impressive quarters by Wilson against Auburn and Ole Miss.

But it's clear many in Razorback Nation left New Orleans thinking they aren't one-and-done in the BCS. As they say with flair in New Orleans, "Let the good times roll."

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