Answer: This defense is better in most areas, most notably the front. There is more depth in the defensive line where they can roll about six players at the two inside positions and four at the defensive end spot. Linebacker depth is still lacking. Cornerback depth has improved as the season's progressed, notably because of the additions of juco CBs Andru Stewart and Rudell Crim. David Gordon and Darius Winston, true freshmen, have also helped at times. Safety depth has also increased, but the play there has been spotty. Of late, Matt Harris and Jerell Norton. True freshman Dede Jones has been the major boost in the defensive line. He is 6-5, 307 and plays with a fast motor. He makes plays every week. The linebackers have been better, too, just not deep enough yet. They still allow too many big plays, but they seem to give up fewer each week.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: Has Ryan Mallet met or exceeded expectations? Do you expect him to go pro after his junior season? Also, who is his backup and what is your opinion of him?
Answer: Ryan Mallett is what I saw in August. He is the best I've seen personally since covering Troy Aikman his last spring at Oklahoma before he transferred to UCLA. Aikman had a rare arm, huge arm. Mallett is the same. I thought Bobby Petrino would mold him into something special and that's exactly what I've seen. Mallett is a sophomore. I think he'll be back for another year. But, he's starting to pop into the mock drafts this year. I suspect that how he plays these last two games, especially LSU, to factor into how he's viewed for this draft. There are no guarantees about what the salary cap will be next year. The collective bargaining act might be substantially different, which makes decisions a little tougher right now.
The backup is Tyler Wilson. He's very talented and does some things better than Mallett. He probably is a little more mobile and throws well on the run. He's not as good at running the entire package, but he's a very capable backup. This may be the best one-two package at quarterback than I've seen at Arkansas in a long time. But, as good as Wilson is, he's not in Mallett's league.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: Are Arkansas' fans content with the progress Bobby Petrino has made or were they expecting to have a better record than 6-4 right now?
Answer: I think it's about what most suspected. There have been some games were they might have done better than suspected, particularly the Florida game. So it's clear they've closed what was a big gap with the top teams in the SEC. I think what happens in the last two games is critical to how everyone will judge this season. If they get to 7-5 - what I predicted - with improvement against several of the top programs and also winning all four non conference games easily - then I think most will be satisfied. Where they end up as a bowl also determines satisfaction.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: Do you feel like Arkansas fits well in the SEC or would the school be a better fit in the Big 12?
Answer: I covered the Big 12 (then the Big 8) for many seasons and saw the way that league traveled. By and large, only two teams travel their fans in that conference, Nebraska and Oklahoma. That's the reason Arkansas left the SWC, there was no real money for staying. The Texas teams did not bring fans to Fayetteville or Little Rock. Geographically, there are some ways the Big 12 works. But financially, that league is still not nearly what the SEC has grown to become, in part because of the additions of Arkansas/South Carolina to grow the brand with the playoffs.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: It is my understanding that during the old SWC days Arkansas and Texas were considered somewhat of a rivalry with both being competitive in the conference. Texas and Arkansas has since met on the gridiron only a couple of times. Do the Arkansas fans miss playing that game? And are there any plans for another long-term contract between the two teams?
Answer: Texas was the rivalry game. No one has replaced that on the Arkansas schedule. Ole Miss has the potential to become that with the move of Houston Nutt there. Ole Miss was a strong rivalry game years ago because of its proximity to the East Arkansas farm strongholds. That was a big money source for Arkansas in the 50s and 60s. That rivalry went away, though. Perhaps it returns. There are some in south Arkansas that love the LSU game and consider it to be the big game of the year. But the entire state doesn't feel that way. There are many in the Arkansas fan base that miss that Texas game.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: Mississippi State quit playing home games in Jackson, Mississippi 20 years ago. This has mostly been a positive move based on the fans reactions. How do the 'powers that be' for Arkansas view scheduling the games they do in Little Rock? Is it seen as a necessary evil or a 'win-win' for the fans?
Answer: Arkansas is a different state than Mississippi. There is only one school. I do not think that any other situation is comparable. The fan base with the way the tickets are split make it necessary to play in Little Rock. And, when you look at Fayetteville and the distance it is from so many fans, those few games in Little Rock are needed. I think it's a win-win.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: What percentage of Arkansas fans would you say are glad to see Houston Nutt leave the program?
Answer: Not sure. Probably a good many.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: You obviously know a lot about Houston Nutt due to covering him for several years while he was at Arkansas. Since he is now coaching Mississippi State's rival school, I'm curious about your take on whether he will or will not succeed at Ole Miss?
Answer: He has no competition in the state of Mississippi and will do well. Just kidding. I'm not sure I understand the situation there where it comes to recruiting, fan base and just all the specifics there to make an accurate guess.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: What caused the Arkansas basketball program to drop off since the mid-90's?
Answer: That's a long story. Real long. Poor recruiting is the easy answer. It no doubt started with the Sunday Adebayo/Jesse Pate decisions, part of which were later judged to be wrong by the NCAA. Lack of effort by the coaching staff and poor evaluations would have to be the blame if you look at the general answer, but it is much deeper than that. You'd have to look at the decision by the administration not to allow JC transfers as part of the self-imposed sanctions, and the damage that perhaps caused in relationships within the school. Then, you have the law suit. Again, it's very complex.
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: The Arkansas mascot hog is one big puppy. How much does he actually weigh and what do they feed him?
Answer: The mascot was in the 800-pound range but has been on a diet and is now in the 500-pound range. As for what they feed him, normally it's a Bulldogs, Tigers, Elephants, Gators, Vols and a few Longhorns. Some he eats, some he tortures and plays around with. (Actually, I think it's a type of feed.)
Gene's Page Subscriber Question: On a much lighter note, some MSU fans have Bulldogs made of stone on their porches, do any Arkansas fans have a porch pig?
Answer: There are often big concrete Razorbacks. It generally scares the few live bulldogs in the neighborhoods.
Editor's Note: Please consider that some of the answers were intended as fun. I didn't know how to answer some of the questions, so I tried for some humor. On a personal aside, I enjoy Mississippi State fans more than any in the SEC. The hospitality in Starkville (for any sporting event) has been outstanding. I've been stopped by State fans outside stadiums who offered there tailgate fare many times. I know coaches and players from State whom I consider to be the most classy of any I've met. Specifically, I've covered Rockey Felker as an assistant coach at Tulsa and at Arkansas. There is not a better person on the earth. I consider him to be a good friend and know there are probably many more just like him that call Mississippi State home. I wish you guys well most of the year and have respect for what you have accomplished at your school.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.