When Arkansas football fans talk about the 2010 season, it's not hard to figure out where they start. It's quarterback Ryan Mallett.
There is one key aspect that no one seems to mention. It is depth.
The depth is so good that there are some battles that I don't have a feel on the starters just yet. I'm excited to think about who might be with the first team when the spring game rolls around April 24. That's the way coaches want it. They don't want starting jobs given by default. That won't happen with this Arkansas team.
There is more depth than I can remember at Arkansas. More players have been in SEC games and return and they are going to be in the third year of this system, or second for many. I think this is a decent recruiting class.
But the best news is that most of them will probably get to redshirt. Some are good enough that they would have probably started two years ago. But they won't have to do that now. That's the best sign that the program is headed back. When you can redshirt your freshman, you are getting some stability.
There is more depth in the OL than I remember in a long time. They will have good competition for two reasons. There is a new coach that will be giving everyone a fresh slate and installing some new techniques and plays.
That helps younger players. But there is just better young players, period. I think Alvin Bailey, Zhamal Thomas, Travis Swanson and (eventually) Colby Berna are going to figure into the mix with Kris Klenakis' system and coaching philosophies.
I think you'll see the defense improve this year. Some of the true freshman are going to have to help in the defensive line, but they can help. Byran Jones and Calvin Barnett would be the ones I'd think would be able to step in to help in Malcolm Sheppard's absence.
And I expect the defensive ends to be bigger and better this year. I don't know how many of the freshman DEs can play right away, but they do seem to have the speed and the get-off that is needed in the SEC.
Some worry about Ryan Mallett's injured foot. That is a setback, but I think depth at quarterback is the best it has been since the days of Mark Miller, Scott Bull and Mike Kirkland. Not since then do I remember having multiple players that have that kind of talent and skill at that position.
I look at Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker as the likely replacements down the line and feel strongly that we are in a good position. You look at the future of that position and it just gives you confidence in the entire program. There are two more possibilities there in Brandon Allen and Kiehl Frazier. I don't know too many programs that have the possibility to have that kind of talent at QB.
As I've said before, quarterbacks seem to find Bobby Petrino and he seems to find quarterbacks. They are like magnets, attracting each other.
That's why I mention depth. It's there now. I want to see better depth at linebacker and in the secondary, but this is the spring to develop those two areas. There is more talent there now. I'm interested to see how Terrell Williams, Austin Moss and Bret Harris progress there. I have good hope for all three of those to go with Jerry Franklin and Freddy Burton.
I think you might see breakout years for Franklin and Burton. Jerrico Nelson is the hybrid outside linebacker/safety in that bunch. Perhaps Ross Rasner develops in that role, too. That was missing last year. When Nelson wasn't in the game, it was pretty evident they didn't feel good enough to play that scheme and slid back into a base look.
Because of the hope I have for defensive improvement, I have a better feel for this team than I did for Petrino's first two teams. This will be a team that does better than .500 in the SEC. I think 5-3 is very doable.
The Hogs won seven in the regular season last year and that could jump to eight or nine in 2010. That's probably good enough to get them in a better bowl game. Of course, that probably means a tougher opponent.
Most like to think about national rankings. For fans, it's how they measure success. They want to see their team on SportsCenter each night and look as the scores roll past starting with the top ranked team. The quicker the talking heads get to their team, the better they like it. That means they are ranked high.
There is good news. Arkansas is likely to start the season in everyone's top 20. Some of that is because of the returnees across the board. But a lot of it is also about Mallett. He's going to be on everyone's radar. He'll be on every preseason All-America team, for good reason. He's as good as any quarterback in the nation.
That's a good place to start, but I think the good news is that the Hogs don't have to start with just starters. There is finally the depth you need to battle week-to-week in the SEC. When you can say "next" then you can make it through the grind that is the SEC. It's a good way to start 2010.
Dave Van Horn said the starting pitching rotation will be Mike Bolsinger, Drew Smyly and Brett Eibner for this weekend's baseball series with Troy. The first pitch is set for 3:05 p.m. Friday.
The weather does not look promising for that first game on Friday. There is a chance of snow and rain for Friday.
"If we can't play Friday, then we'll try to play two on Saturday," Van Horn said Wednesday. "I think Troy is driving, but I don't think we could play two on Sunday."
Smyly was not in the starting rotation last weekend. Geoff Davenport got the loss in Saturday's game. However, Van Horn said Davenport gave a good performance.
"He pitched pretty well," Van Horn said. "In the first inning, there was an error that wasn't called an error. It was a play that should have been made at third. We could have gotten him out of that inning with no problem.
"He'll pitch out of the bullpen this weekend, but if not then he might start Tuesday against Kansas."
Van Horn expects a solid Troy team. The Trojans enter with a 3-1 record. They swept Hofstra, scoring 48 runs. They lost at home Tuesday night to Samford, 9-7.
"We played them two years ago," Van Horn said. "They like to play SEC teams and they play them well.
"I was hoping they would have won last night and come in here undefeated. But that didn't happen.
"They score a lot of runs in their park. They have a short fence in right. And the wind blows out. We had the wind blowing in here most of last weekend.
"We will try to get in all three games this weekend. We'll make a decision Friday morning on the first game. If that system gets on through here and it's going to be in the upper 30s, we'll play."
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