It doesn't matter to the second-year coach that most think the Razorbacks will be much improved after finishing 5-7 in 2008. Or that some predict Arkansas still will finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division standings, while others say the Razorbacks will be the league's surprise team.
All Petrino cares about is that his players realize one thing.
"We have to prove ourselves," Petrino said Wednesday. "We understand that we know we're going to be a better football team. I think we can be better than a lot of people think.
"But the bottom line is, we've got to go out there and prove it."
Arkansas, like every other team around of the country, is entering the final stage of its long, grueling summer. In three weeks, coaches and players will step back on the practice to begin preparing for the 2010 season. One loaded with intrigue for the Razorbacks. And, apparently, one with plenty to prove.
"We've got a chance to be a good team and surprise a lot of people," senior safety Matt Harris said after a workout last week.
Said receiver Lucas Miller: "It's time to take the next step."
Optimism is abundant around the country this time of year, but Arkansas does return most of its starters on both sides of the ball. The Razorbacks also should have much-needed depth at positions like running back, wide receiver and in the secondary.
They have been immersed in Petrino's system — and his way of doing things — for more than a year, too. Players said they know what he expects and how he wants things accomplished.
It has left the Hogs confident, but curious about how things will turn out when practice begins. Petrino said Wednesday he's eager to blend returning players with the 2009 signing class.
"I know we'll be a better football team," Petrino said. "I know we'll be better two years from now. I think the attitude and the enthusiasm and the fact that we've been able to add the recruits that we've needed will certainly help us as we get going into it."
But clearly, Petrino likes what he is seeing right now.
On Wednesday he was asked about leadership, his team's chemistry and how well they understand what is expected from them this summer. Petrino said there is growth everywhere.
"Our players are working hard every day to improve," Petrino said. "We got out of the survival mode. We don't go to workouts and just try to survive and get to the next day. We go there and we attack it. We attack it with a good attitude and enthusiasm and therefore we're getting better."
Will it mean success on the field? That's impossible to tell.
But it's clear Petrino and the Razorbacks can't wait to find out.
"I'm excited to see this football team on the field," strength coach Jason Veltkamp said after a workout last week. "They're excited to see them on the field. That's a great thing."
Petrino, Hogs Eager to Prove Themselves
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