Could 2012 be the Year of the Hog? Some Think… Yes!
This Bleacher Report Writer thinks so. Me? I keep trying to convince myself that it could be, but I'm not so sure.
There are many reasons to believe the Hogs COULD run the table in 2012 (at least through the regular season), but there are reasons to believe some Hog fans are being a little overly-optimistic.
Reasons to believe:
Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis: Tyler proved himself to be one of the best (and toughest) QB's in all of college football last year and enters the 2012 season riding a wave of confidence. With him under center, no doubt the Hogs offense won't be lacking in the leadership department. Knile is healthy and looking to return to 2010 form when he led the SEC in rushing. All signs point toward Knile have a great season, IF the O-line can open up holes for him. Knile hasn't been hit in over a year though so he's going to have to work hard to get his body ready for the pounding he's going to take this fall.
The schedule: By far, the toughest tests for the 2012 Hogs will be Bama and LSU and both of those games are in Fayetteville. The toughest road challenges will be Auburn and South Carolina. A loss to any of the other teams on the schedule would definitely be considered an upset. It would be hard to argue that the Hogs don't have one of the better schedules in the league this year.
An improved defense: With the addition of defensive co-ordinator Paul Haynes, the Hogs defense was solid in their Cotton Bowl victory of Kansas State. Was it a sampling of what was to come? I think so. I fully expect the Hogs defense to finally gel in 2012 and not give up 30+ points per game. Defense still wins championships and if the Hogs are ever going to be a serious contender, the defense must rise to the occasion.
Reasons to be skeptical:
Offensive line: Tyler Wilson cannot spend half of the season on his back again this year. Tyler's toughness over-came a lot of the offensive line's glaring problems last season, but his body can only take so much. With a relatively young batch of receivers, it will be even more important for the o-line to protect Tyler since he won't have his faithful safety valves in Joe Adams or Jarius Wright. This is going to be one of the biggest challenges since the Hogs o-line will be even younger this year than it was last year.
Young receiving corp: Many don't want to believe this, but this COULD be a weak spot early on in the season. Texarkanas' Cobi Hamilton is the only senior on the two deep depth chart. Gone are the Hogs leading receivers (Adams and Wright) from a year ago. While receiver is the one position under Petrino that the Hogs will consistently "reload" at (and there's no doubt the Hogs have a lot of depth and talent there), Hog fans should not be surprised if there is a bit of a drop off in production this season, especially early on. Who will step up and fill Adams and Wrights shoes? We'll just have to wait and see.
Defense: Yes, I said earlier defense was going to be one of the reasons we have to believe, but there are also big question marks here as well. First, there will be 5 fresh faces in starting positions to start the season and 4 of them will be in the defensive backfield where two linebackers, a corner and a safety graduated last season (areas where the Hogs have struggled to build any kind of quality depth). Looking down the spring depth chart, I feel confident the Hogs starters should be solid (at least, the ones we KNOW will be starting this fall), but there are still quite a few question marks. (The fact that Tank Wright is working out at MLB this spring kind of concerns me. Either we have someone really good to replace him... which doesn't appear to be the case... and they're trying to find somewhere else he can contribute, or we are REALLY hurting for linebackers. I think it's the latter. We'll see.) I just don't see the type of quality depth on the defensive side that gives me complete confidence we won't have a few let downs defensively this year. True, it's better now than it has been in the past, but there are a LOT of unproven guys once you start looking at the #2-#3 spots on the depth chart.
Alabama & LSU: Unfortunately, they're still on the schedule. The good news is, both of those games are in Fayetteville. The bad news is, both of these teams will once again be two of the best in the country.
The first of four spring scrimmages is today in Fayetteville. Some things Hog fans will be watching for...
Which Brandon (Mitchell or Allen) will take the #2 spot behind Tyler Wilson? Brandon Allen seems to be the real deal and I firmly believe he will be Tyler's successor, but Brandon Mitchell has experience on his side.
How will Tenarius "Tank" Wright do at the middle linebacker spot? (Tank has been working out at MLB since Alonzo Highsmith went down due to injury. Trey Flowers is working out at Tanks defensive end spot. )
Which receivers will step up to the challenge and take the top spots (all receiver starting jobs are technically up for grabs)?
Who will step up and take the starting job on the defensive ends?
Is Brey Cook (the Hogs 4 star red-shirt freshman from Fayetteville) ready to step into a starting role on the 0-line?
Lots of questions to be answered this spring and in the fall, but one thing I'm sure of... They'll be ready come fall and the odds of them having a spectacular season are higher than they've been since Frank Broyles roamed the sidelines. It is, indeed, a great time to be a Razorback fan.
Anyone going to the spring game?? It will once again be televised, but I haven't seen which network will carry it yet.