SEC PREVIEWS: High expectations for Arkansas

Now that the Southeastern Conference has won an unprecedented five straight national football championships, the question isn't if the league can continue the streak, but which team seems the most likely to pull off the feat.

With four different teams (Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Florida twice) winning national titles in the past five years plus three Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Cam Newton), winning the SEC championship has become the single most important factor in determining leading candidates for college football's top team and individual honors.

The SEC publishers have tabbed Alabama as the overall favorite to win the league championship and make its way to another BCS title game. LSU drew strong support both as the second choice in the SEC West and for the overall title with South Carolina getting the nod over Georgia for the SEC East championship. All 12 teams will be previewed in their predicted order of finish over the next couple of weeks.


Arkansas (3)

Quarterback Ryan Mallett, tight end D. J. Williams and tackles DeMarcus Love and Ray Dominguez have departed from one of the school's best-ever offenses, but Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino isn't backing away from great expectations for the 2011 season.

Listen to how he answered a question at a winter booster club in regards to a possible trip to New Orleans for the BCS national title game after the 2011 season:

"If I could make predictions, I'd get in a different line of work," Petrino said. "But what I will say to that is that we are going to have a football team that believes it is going to compete for a national title.

"In recruiting, when we brought in players this year they told us they were excited about our program because they saw players here that believe they are working to be national champions. It's a pretty tough league. We do believe we have a chance to win every time we take the field. Once in a while the ball has to bounce the right way and we certainly think we are due."

Petrino isn't afraid of expectations. His are sky high. He was asked if it surprised him that the Hogs made it to a BCS game in just his third season in the Ozarks?

"I did expect a BCS game," Petrino said. "But I expected it to be in the national championship game.

"We started last season with high expectations. I think our players, our coaches and even the wives of our coaches expected it. I learned a long time ago to set high goals. I was taught by my father not to be afraid to try for something special. He taught me to reach for the rainbow."

Most expect junior Tyler Wilson -- with four springs under Petrino -- to take over for Mallett at quarterback. But Petrino didn't name a starter after spring when Wilson dueled with run-pass threat Brandon Mitchell. Wilson performed better in the Red-White game when Mitchell threw three interceptions. Wilson was with the first unit most of the spring, but Petrino is clearly fascinated with Mitchell's potential, too. There is some option in the offense to play to Mitchell's strengths.

"We will name a starter sometime in fall camp," Petrino said. "I want them both to work this summer and show they can lead the team. They have a lot of work to do as far as pushing our team in the 7-on-7 workouts when the coaches aren't out there. I want to find out how they do in that."

Who wins that battle may not matter. The Hogs are loaded everywhere else and made strides to replace the offensive tackles. Petrino said after the spring game that he thinks they have "four good players" at tackle and it's just a matter of letting that competition sort itself out in fall camp. True freshman Brey Cook, who enrolled at mid-term, held the No. 1 spot at weak tackle, but Petrino likes juco transfer Jason Peacock, too. The top candidates on the strong side are Anthony Oden and Grant Freeman. Freeman, with some experience, knows both sides. There were 18 players listed at the three wideout spots in the spring.

The Hogs -- with Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton -- might have four of the SEC's top 10 wideouts. Julian Horton, Maudrecus Humprey and Marquel Wade also sparkled in the spring at wideout.

Running back is loaded, too. Knile Davis didn't have many long runs in the spring and was pushed by Ronnie Wingo. The emergence of Wingo was exciting to coaches. He was timed at 4.27 (even with Jarius Wright) in winter 40-yard dash tests -- at 230 pounds. He ran like a big, fast load in the spring and earned time in the fall as more than a receiving threat.

But if the Hogs are going to make a move this fall, it will be because of an improved defense. Tackling was splendid in the spring and there weren't as many long plays given up in the passing game. The front, with the addition of junior college tackle Robert Thomas, is outstanding. Ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright are two of the SEC's best. Depth is fabulous.

The secondary improved with Tramain Thomas at free safety and Eric Bennett and Elton Ford battling at strong. Three-year starters Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson are the top linebackers, but depth improved there, too.

"It's time for us to be a dominant defense," he said. "We need to come in and get three-and-outs. We need to get turnovers. We need to score on defense.

"We have guys who have been in the system a long time. We have four-year staters like Jake Bequette and Jerry Franklin. And then there are others who have been here four years like Tenarius Wright. These are guys who have played when we were getting beat up four years ago.

"Our defense didn't make a lot of mistakes this spring. We didn't blow coverages. We tackled well in the spring game. We didn't have a lot of missed tackles this spring."


SEC West
Alabama (1)
LSU (2)

SEC East
South Carolina (1)
Georgia (2)

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