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"I feel a little more comfortable today than I did a year ago standing up here, I can tell you that." One can imagine.
Last year, when Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino took the stage at SEC Media Days, he was most recently known for jilting the Atlanta Falcons midseason and taking over the program formerly headed by widely-loved (if more so outside Arkansas than within) Houston Nutt. This year, Petrino's team is a pick to make a bowl and continue on the upswing.
But the shadows still lurk, even if they're much smaller now than a year ago. After all, Petrino headed to the podium just two days after Michael Vick finished up his federal sentence on dogfighting charges. It was perhaps the end of Vick's Falcons career that had more to do with Petrino leaving Atlanta than anything else; "perhaps" is as close as we can get, because Petrino's not talking about what might have happened had canine's worst friend had stayed out of prison.
"You know, you don't think about those things," Petrino said. "There's all the ifs, ands and buts of the world. That's not one you think about."
Which is, of course, nonsense. It's reasonable to wonder if Petrino would have gone to Atlanta without the opportunity to coach one of the most unique athletes the NFL had ever seen and a chance to prove that he, the Great Petrino, could tame Vick's formidable talents and turn him into a pocket passer.
But the Vick saga wasn't the only reason Petrino wants to turn the page to the future. Even if Arkansas' last season was the start of something in Fayetteville, it wasn't the most auspicious start. Too-close wins against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe kicked off the year, followed by consecutive demolitions at the hands of Alabama, Texas and Florida. And while Hog fans will quickly point to the season-ending win against LSU, it came the week after a loss to Mississippi State that left Arkansas at home for the holidays.
The second year has promise, though. Ryan Mallett appears to have won Petrino's trust, and players say that a system that once seemed foreign to them -- blame Nutt for that, Arkansas fans; you blame him for everything else -- is now familiar. TE D.J. Williams says he has learned some of the finer techniques from Petrino, like how quick step can throw the defense off enough to change the outcome of a play. Williams demurred when asked if that underlined a difference between Petrino's style and Nutt's.
"They're both successful in their own right," he said.
Eventually, Nutt's former ties to Arkansas will be mentioned only fleetingly at the beginning of the annual tilt. There will be no players in Hogs uniforms who played for Sir Giggity. But while Williams tried to downplay the significance of the Ole Miss game, it was obvious that the recent past is not entirely behind Arkansas.
"I'm not going to say that the game's not going to mean anything," Williams said.
Acknowledged or not, memories don't fade so quickly.