Going back to last season, I keep wondering what the pundits’ rosy view of the Arkansas program stems from. Yes, Petrino is one of the best offensive play callers in college football and, yes, Ryan Mallett is a terrific talent. But when you look at the rest of the team, it’s hard to see that it performed last season as much more than a very talented Conference USA squad.
Yet, here the Hogs sit as the media preseason darlings of the SEC. And up until now, I haven’t seen much questioning of that. So it’s nice to see some independent confirmation of my skepticism from Jerry Hinnen. I don’t think I could do a better job of distilling it than he does in the paragraph:
8-5 last year + horrible defense + quarterback misses spring practice = 14th in the country. To be fair to Schlabach, not many of the teams behind them exactly have a juggernautical look, but still; Georgia scored just as many points per conference game last year as the Hogs did, have far greater across-the-board talent and depth, return everyone but Joe Cox on offense, can’t possibly be so bad in the turnover department, actually made staff changes to repair their Swiss-cheese defense, have the best specialists in the SEC by a mile, and, you know, beat Arkansas last year in Arkansas. The Dawgs, however, are 20th. OK.
If anything, you could argue that Jerry understates the case there. I don’t think he’d get much of an argument from the Georgia faithful about his “Swiss-cheese” characterization of Martinez’ defense, but even so, that unit managed to finish fifty-one slots higher nationally in total defense than did the Razorbacks’. Joe Cox had a passer rating of 246.15 against Arkansas in 2009. His season average was over 111 points less than that.
There’s also the little matter of how well Arkansas did in the turnover margin department and how likely a repeat of that is for 2010.
Believe it or not, Hog fans, this isn’t meant as a knock on your team. For all I know, this may be the year for Arkansas to rise and shine. What I don’t get, though, is what the basis for the punditry double standard is now. Jerry points to Mallett-love as the source; I think that Petrino’s shiny Louisville record explains some of it, too.
Whatever the reason, it still amounts to a leap of faith in the Arkansas defense that Jerry neatly skewers.
… This is not to say that Arkansas won’t be improved defensively this fall. They could hardly get worse. But the evidence for believing in some kind of quantum leap from the Hog defenders that will make them a top-15 caliber team seems to be nothing more than “Bobby Petrino said so.”
I made a Conference USA crack at the beginning of this post, but it seems to me that in terms of style, that’s the kind of team Petrino has fashioned. (Sorry, Jerry, but you can say the same thing about Auburn.) How likely is it that that’s a style of play that’s going to prosper in the more rugged SEC? And why don’t the pundits recognize that?