The advice from my mentor years ago when it comes to preseason predictions: pick the Arkansas football team to win them all. Give ‘em what they want.
In those days, Orville Henry said he always told Razorback Clubs the Hogs would go 10-0. He said he could usually come up with the comethroughs needed position by position in his mind to validate that prediction. But it was more a case of being optimistic than trying to fool anyone. That wasn't in his makeup.
I used to argue with him that he didn't do that on the golf course. In other words, on the first tee if he was trying to make the game, he didn't tell anyone he was a 5 handicap when he was a 12.
Hmm, he'd say. Well, one is football, the other is golf. Don't confuse them. I got it. There might be a wager involved in golf. No use giving away a $5 Nassau on the first tee.
I'm terribly conservative in my predictions. I've NEVER predicted a perfect season in the 18 years Hawgs Illustrated has been alive. But, perhaps that is because the Razorbacks have been playing in the SEC all of those years.
As my father preached to me, playing in the SEC is like seeing Texas every week. He was for the move to the SEC. He longed for the day when he was traveling the south again, much like he did in the 1940s and ‘50s when he followed the Arkansas Travelers in the old Southern Association.
There were trips every other week to Nashville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, etc. He had newspaper friends in all of those towns, although many were dead by 1992 when Frank Broyles brokered that move to the SEC.
It's just not easy to look at an SEC schedule and see lots of victories. There won't be a bunch in 2009, perhaps three, four tops. I see four on the nonconference schedule.
So there you have it, my EARLY prediction for 2009. I will call it 7-5 in Bobby Petrino's second year as coach for the next few weeks, but I will take a second look sometime in August after I see if everyone in a fantastic recruiting class makes it to school and if there were any key summer injuries or problems.
I have yet to do a thorough study of the SEC West. I know enough about Florida to know that isn't going to be one of the victories. Georgia looks like a loss, although the Bulldogs are breaking in a new quarterback. South Carolina looks to be a victory, but a close game decided by the home field.
The SEC West is still a bit cloudy. I'll need more study to pick an order of finish. Some days I pick Alabama. Others it's LSU. Those appear to be the two most talented teams in the division. Ole Miss has the best returning quarterback, but took some graduation hits in the lines, a strong point for the Rebels last season.
I picked six victories last season. Except for a fourth-quarter meltdown at Kentucky, I might have been right. But there were some narrow victories at the start that probably could have gone the other way, too. The Hogs might have deserved a 5-7 season when you look at breaks over the course of the entire 12 games.
Going from five to seven victories might not show how much improvement I think the Hogs will show in 2009. I think they will be significantly better on defense. I think the wide receivers will show solid progress from last year, too. I'm also hopeful the special teams will be much improved with the emphasis John L. Smith brought to all phases of the kicking game beginning in spring drills.
I give Petrino a lot of credit for the rebuilding job he's done to this point, and think the real breakthroughs will come in year three of his program. It's a process and it's going well.
That means this team might have an easier time against the nonconference schedule. Remember, the three victories against Western Illinois, Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa were harrowing experiences. It took some big plays in the fourth quarter to get all three triumphs. I think the Hogs will be able to handle Missouri State, Texas A&M, Eastern Michigan and Troy with fewer scares.
The SEC victories will probably come from Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State. If things go well, Ole Miss might be another victim. The Rebels didn't exactly hammer the Hogs last year.
More than a few that I respect think the Hogs will get a big scalp somewhere along the way. If they do, they obviously over achieved in my mind. This is not a year for stepping too far out on the limb. I don't want to lose the bet before I hit my first shot.
State of the Hogs: Predictions
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