Record: 10-2, 6-2 SEC
In any other conference, Arkansas might be sporting a championship ring right now and making plans for a BCS bowl.
But Alabama and LSU also reside in the SEC’s rugged Western Division, and the Hogs didn’t have any answers for either one of those clubs this season. They lost 38-14 to Alabama the fourth week of the season and 41-17 to LSU in the regular-season finale.
The margin of those two losses was disappointing, but it wasn’t a disappointing season.
The Hogs won 10 games for the second straight season, the first time they’d done that since the old Southwest Conference days in 1988 and 1989.
Junior Tyler Wilson stepped in for Ryan Mallett at quarterback, and the Hogs’ offense was as potent as ever. They missed running back Knile Davis, who fractured his ankle in the preseason, but Dennis Johnson came back from his own injury in 2010 to finish second in the SEC with 1,351 all-purpose yards.
It didn’t go as well as planned on defense. Whereas Arkansas made significant strides on defense from 2009 to 2010, it went the other way this season. The Hogs were hurt by injuries to defensive ends Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright and gave up 28 or more points in six of their 12 games.
In their two losses to Alabama and LSU, they gave up a total of 79 points, although two of the touchdowns they allowed came on punt returns.
Offensive MVP: Receiver Jarius Wright. One of the Hogs’ senior leaders, Wright took his game to new heights this season and broke a ton of records along the way. He set school records with 63 catches and 1,029 receiving yards and led the SEC with 11 touchdown catches. He also set an Arkansas single-game record with 281 receiving yards against Texas A&M.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Jerry Franklin. Watching an Arkansas game without Franklin next season will be weird. For the fourth straight season, he led the Hogs in total tackles with 93, including 10 for loss. Franklin, who’s made 30 consecutive starts, also returned a fumble 94 yards for a touchdown against Vanderbilt that was the difference in that game.
Turning point: Coming off the 24-point beating at Alabama, Arkansas found itself trailing Texas A&M 35-17 at the half the next week and its season teetering. But the Hogs came charging back in the second half behind Wilson’s school-record 510 passing yards to win 42-38 and ignite a seven-game winning streak.
What’s next: The Hogs will spend the postseason in a familiar locale and face No. 8 Kansas State on Jan. 6 in the AT&T Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. It’s a chance to get to 11 wins, something the Hogs haven’t done since 1977, which was Lou Holtz’s first season in Fayetteville. Arkansas’ staff will look a lot different next season. Coach Bobby Petrino fired defensive coordinator Willy Robinson earlier this week, while offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee (UAB) and special-teams coordinator John L. Smith (Weber State) both left for head-coaching jobs. Petrino has already replaced McGee with his younger brother, Paul Petrino, who’s returning to Arkansas after spending the past two seasons at Illinois and will coach the Hogs in the bowl game.