State of the Hogs: Prediction Time

The offensive firepower is intense and there is confidence in the defensive brain trust. All of that makes for a fun Arkansas football season.

This was the day that I promised to write my prediction column for the 2012 season. I wasn't really ready Tuesday night at the Tulsa Razorback Club. I gave them a number, but it wasn't delivered with confidence. I am firm now.

I like so much about this Arkansas team. In some ways it's the best since the late 1980s when there were back-to-back Cotton Bowl trips. There is an All-SEC quarterback to lead the show. In many ways, Tyler Wilson is the most talented, prepared and competent leader since Quinn Grovey.

There are so many weapons on offense to go with Wilson. The addition of Brandon Mitchell, Mekale McKay, Demetrius Wilson and Keon Hatcher have bolstered the depth and talent at wide receiver to a more than comfortable level. Cobi Hamilton looks like an NFL wideout.

There are standouts at running back. Knile Davis, Jonathan Williams and Nate Holmes have made it easier to work Kody Walker at fullback and Kiero Small at linebacker. Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo have been superb in camp.

I can't remember an Arkansas team with this many playmakers AND an experienced standout at quarterback. I liked the reply from Hamilton Saturday at the team meal before the public scrimmage when Wilson was pushing him for a great performance.

"I told him to calm down," Hamilton said. "I told him he had great players all around him and to go have fun."

Hamilton caught 11 passes in the scrimmage, two of them for touchdowns. He also was the go-to target on a big fourth-down completion. He made a nifty move in front of the stakes to juke the safety, then fired forward for the conversion.

Davis hasn't been tackled, but I liked the answer on that matter from team captain Alfred Davis this week.

"He'll probably hurt the first four or five times he gets hit in the first game, then that will be over," said Big Al. "Don't worry about it."

Do I worry about injured Tenarius "Tank" Wright, Alonzo Highsmith and Eric Bennett missing so much time this camp? You bet. Those were the players penciled in as the defensive playmakers with Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas and Jerico Nelson gone.

Linebacker depth has improved in camp with Jarrett Lake, Terrell Williams and Small. Freshmen Otha Peters and A. J. Turner aren't ready yet, but got enough practice time that they might be in another month. Turner's instincts are terrific, but he's only 216.

The talent at defensive end is terrific, too. NFL scouts drool when they look at assistant coach Steve Caldwell's group when they are separated into individual work.

Still, it's a fair match when the offensive tackles hook up with those ends. There are times when the ends win, but lots of stalemates, too. The real treat is to watch the battles inside. Center Travis Swanson and guards Alvin Bailey and Tyler Deacon are seeing a fine rotation of defensive tackles in Byran Jones, D.D. Jones, Robert Thomas and Alfred Davis.

The secondary is deeper, too. The starters at corner, Tevin Mitchel and Darius Winston, are both improved. Rohan Gaines has grabbed a safety spot and Bennett should be fine. Ross Rasner has shown the ability to play star linebacker and safety and Lake provides the depth at star to allow it.

I like the kicking game, too. Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding are solid. Johnson will do well returning kickoffs and punts.

The team looks fit and in better condition. The offensive line is trim and quicker, just as strong.

So what's with holding off on the prediction? It's the change at the top. Bobby Petrino is gone.

The question remains, how much will the Hogs miss Petrino? Can John L. Smith hold it together? And how much will Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson help the defense? Is the back end going to be better since Willy Robinson is not trying to coach safeties, corners and coordinate the defense? Haynes and Bobby Allen are splitting up the secondary now.

I wish Johnson, a fireball of a linebackers coach, had more practice time in camp with Highsmith and Wright. They need to practice tackling more than Davis needs to be tackled.

In the end, there are rarely perfect teams. Seldom do you have everything or all of the information.

But it's clear this is going to be a fun Arkansas team. They are better than their national ranking of No. 10. I see it about like last year when only Alabama and LSU were more talented.

Yes, these Hogs could lose more than two, but they should win 10. There, I did it, 10-2. Someone tell me when South Carolina finds a quarterback.

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