The Robertson Report

[Premium Article] One of the great things about following the SEC West is the parity. The teams are so even you just never know. Everybody has a shot. While the SEC East has only had two champions, the wild, wild West has had five. The SEC West may be the toughest division in college football. It certainly makes prognosticating tough when there is so much balance in the league. It's tough to pick a team last, but I can assure you this year it won't be Mississippi State.

This year the dubious distinction of last place in the West belongs to Arkansas. While everybody's pretty equal when you take into account schedule, returning letterman, and off-season attrition, Arkansas is the team that makes the most sense.

Coach Houston Nutt has achieved below expectations if UPig fans are honest. They certainly expected to have appeared in the SECCG again by now as well as had some stability in the division. The Hogs are tough to figure. One thing is certain, they always have a dip. They either start slow or finish slow. The Hogs finished strong a year ago, but won two games they certainly should not have. And those two wins powered a late season rush to third in the West. That's how the West is won every year, by team's who have a lot of luck. The Hogs need a charmed season, but it's just not in the offing in 2002.

The biggest reason the Hogs closed the season so well was QB Matt Jones. Jones won a lottery of sorts among a host of also-rans. Zak Clark lost his starting job again and transferred. Newly arrived transfer Ryan Sorahan thought he would be the starter. Sorahan is again debating another transfer as Matt Jones seems to have a stranglehold on the position.

Jones runs the option of old. He is a throw back of sorts. He is a fiery competitor and has a kamikaze type attitude. If the Hogs are to challenge for anything but the cellar, Jones must improve his passing skills. The option is cute, but you can't run that week in and week out anymore and expect to stay healthy. While I like Jones at QB, he is not a pocket passer and struggles with deep and intermediate passing. This must improve or Sorahan may want to stick around as there will be plenty of obvious passing situations to go around.

If there is a player who has disappointed Hog faithful more than Cedric Cobbs I haven't seen him. Cobbs was bally-hooed as a potential Heisman candidate. He showed great promise in 1999. Had an injury-plagued season in 2000, then never seemed to find his stride a year ago. If Cobbs stumbles again this season Fred Talley will get the bulk of the carries. Talley, while not as strong as Cobbs, has shown up when needed unlike his more publicized teammate. Brandon Holmes is the 3rd team tailback and the back up fullback, but he will see plenty of action. Holmes has the ability to play either position well, but is undersized for a fullback. Nutt just wants to maximize their team speed and sometimes it pays to have Holmes in the backfield as another option. This group will make or break the season for the Hogs.

The wide receiving corps still lacks what previous Razorback squads have had, a go to guy. Sam Breeden was expected to emerge as the leader of the group, but he is now second team to youngster George Wilson. Sparky Hamilton also has been relegated to relief duty after losing his spot to Richard Smith. All four will see some playing time, but they are basically interchangeable as no one has elevated to the head of the class.

The Hogs like using the tight end and it appears that Jason Peters should earn the nod as the pass catching tight end with Marcellus Poydras coming in during two tight end formations.

The offensive line must replace three starters from a year ago. The right side seems set with Mark Bokermann and Shawn Andrews at tackle and guard respectively. The rest is pretty much a crap shoot. Josh Melton will start at center and the supporting cast will fight out the left guard and tackle positions during two-a-days. This group must gel quickly.

The biggest loss on the Razorback defense is coordinator John Thompson. JT, who departed for Florida, is a defensive mastermind. He will be missed, but the system will essential stay in place. This defensive line must improve. Experience returns on the interior of the line, but the ends are weak. Raymond House should be a run stopper at NT, but the rest of the line has yet to live up to expectations. Jermaine Brooks has showed flashes of skill at DT, but he has failed to develop into the brick wall that was expected.

The linebacking corps is highlighted by gutsy Tony Bua. Bua lurks like an assassin, but is a little undersized. Caleb Miller slipped to 2nd on the depth chart in the spring, but should bounce back strong in the fall. Jeb Huckeba is getting all the attention from the defense now. He is a punisher that loves contact. He should provide some improvements on the inside.

The secondary has a wealth of talent. Ahmad "Batman" Carroll emerged as a young star a season ago. Carroll rarely gets caught out of position which is huge in this scheme. As weak as the front seven should be, the secondary will have to step up to keep offenses honest. Lawrence Richardson will man the other corner and has great speed and hands. It'll be tough to find two corners in the West as athletic as these two. Hopefully All-SEC safety Ken Hamlin can fit in some football in between court appearances. Hamlin has had a host of off-season problems and his future hangs in the balance. Hamlin has great ability, but needs direction.

SCHEDULE
========
Boise St.
South Florida
Alabama
@ Tennessee
@ Auburn
Kentucky
Ole Miss
Troy State
@ South Carolina
USL
@ Mississippi State
LSU

The schedule is no friend to the Hogs. They should sweep the non-conference, but, hey, Troy State comes calling late and who knows with those guys. The conference schedule is horrendous. The Hogs are bad on the road as are most teams in the West. Arkansas will probably go 0-4 in conference on the road. The best shot looks to be at State, but you can bet the Dogs will be ready after letting last season's sure win slip away in the final moments. The Hogs would need to go 3-1 at home in conference to have any real shot at a bowl game. The Hogs will probably split at home unless LSU completely lets me down. That puts the Hogs at 6-6 which would make them 2-6 in conference. That gets you last place in the West.

Who knows, the Hogs could put it all together, but there are huge gaps that must be filled. Arkansas has not recruited as well as the rest of the West with the exception of Ole Miss. Nutt has at least managed to sign his share of players. The Hogs need a breakthrough season or Houston may be on the hot seat and soon. Nutt's teams played well when he was playing with Danny Ford's players. His recruits need to step it up or this could be the bacon season for the Pigs.

Until next time,

Steve Robertson
Matthew 7:13-14


Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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