Spring fever: Arkansas

If you're a towering quarterback looking for a place to play college football, you might want to check out Fayetteville, Ark. It seems to be a proving ground for prodigious passers.

That's where 6-6, 218-pound Matt Jones guided the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2002 and 2003, and that's where 6-7, 248-pound Ryan Mallett is looking to do the same in 2009 and beyond.

Although he was 3-0 as a part-time starter at Michigan in 2007, Mallett realized he'd be a horrible fit for new head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread option in 2008 and left the program. After sitting out last fall as a transfer, he appears to have found a home in the pass-happy scheme of second-year Razorback coach Bobby Petrino.

Mallett is listed as the No. 1 quarterback after completing 15 of 26 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in Arkansas's recent spring game but backup Tyler Wilson is expected to get some snaps each game. The 6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman completed 23 of 36 for 301 yards and two TDs in the Red & White Game.

Whoever is behind center will have plenty of weapons. Arkansas returns players who produced 99 percent of last season's rushing yards and 97 percent of last fall's receiving yards. The key returnee is Michael Smith. Though only 5-7 and 176 pounds, he led the 2008 Hogs in rushing (1,072 yards) and ranked second in receptions (32 for 298 yards).

The Razorbacks also return tight end D.J. Williams (62 catches for 723 yards last year), plus wideouts Joe Adams (31 for 377), Lucas Miller (30 for 490) and London Crawford (27 for 322).

Petrino wasted no time putting his stamp on the program. Assuming a team long known for its rushing attack, he fielded an attack that averaged 259.6 passing yards and just 113.5 rushing yards per game last fall. And, remember, that was with Casey Dick at quarterback.

Arkansas must replace two of last year's starting offensive linemen, including Jonathan Luigs, winner of the 2007 Rimington Trophy as the NCAA's premier center.

The Razorbacks return nine starters on defense, including the entire front seven. The best of the lot is probably linebacker Wendel Davis.

Arkansas also returns kicker Alex Tejada, who made just 4 of 9 field-goal tries last fall and went 0 for 4 beyond 39 yards.

Bottom line: The Razorbacks have a more experienced team than last year but also a tougher schedule. They'll be better in '09 but it may not show up in the won-lost record.

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