2011 overall record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2
WR Jarius Wright, WR Joe Adams, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB/S Jerico Nelson, S Tramain Thomas
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Dennis Johnson* (670 yards)
Passing: Tyler Wilson* (3,638 yards)
Receiving: Jarius Wright (1,117 yards)
Tackles: Jerry Franklin (101)
Sacks: Jake Bequette (10)
Interceptions: Tramain Thomas (5)
1. Wilson’s Air Show: After throwing for more than 3,600 yards in his first season as a starter a year ago, Tyler Wilson is back for more and looked better than ever in the spring. He’s been through the league gauntlet once now and will have experience on his side. When he gets hot, there are few quarterbacks any better in the college game, and he should be even more consistent as a senior. Wilson can beat you from the pocket, but he’s also capable of moving around and making plays. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, either. In 438 passing attempts last season, he only threw six interceptions.
2. Seniors take charge: One of the most comforting things for everybody in Arkansas this spring following Bobby Petrino’s ouster was the way the leaders on the team rose to the occasion and took charge. Knile Davis, Tenarius Wright and Wilson made sure the focus remained on the field and reminded their teammates, quite pointedly, that none of their goals had changed. It’s that kind of senior leadership the Hogs are going to need in the fall when it starts for real in the SEC.
3. New playmakers: Jarius Wright and Joe Adams combined to score 20 touchdowns last season for the Hogs, so they will definitely be missed. But there wasn’t any shortage of newer faces making big plays this spring. Sophomore Marquel Wade looks like he’s ready to move into Adams’ role as a return specialist and a guy who makes plays after the catch in the passing game. Wade's status could be iffy, though. He was arrested this past weekend and charged with burglarizing dorm rooms along with two other players. Wade has been indefinitely suspended. Senior tight end Chris Gragg might not be new to the Arkansas fans, but he’s another player who’s poised for a big season. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
1. Petrino fallout: The players have said all of the right things, and the hiring of John L. Smith was exactly what the players and assistant coaches on this team wanted. They didn’t want to bring in an outsider after Petrino’s firing and have to start all over this summer. Even so, the Hogs still have a huge mountain to climb emotionally and mentally, especially when things get tough, as they seek to navigate their way through the 2012 season without the guy who got them to this point (Petrino) on the sideline.
2. Stopping the inside run: Arkansas finished ninth in the SEC in rushing defense last season, and stopping the power running teams right up the chute was a struggle the whole way. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes has installed his system, and the Hogs have also moved some people around, most notably Wright going from defensive end to inside linebacker. Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith missed this spring while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. The Hogs need him to be healthy in the fall, and they also need their interior guys up front to step it up against the run.
3. Breaking through: Nobody in the Ozarks needs to be reminded that the Hogs are just 1-5 against Alabama and LSU the past three seasons. They get both the Crimson Tide and Tigers in Fayetteville in 2012 and are going to need at least a split to have a chance to break through and get to the SEC championship game. Arkansas had Alabama on the ropes two years ago in Fayetteville, but couldn’t finish the job.