A hyped quarterback, a bunch of returning players on offense and a defense that apparently was built for the Big East -- there are almost as many unknowns about Arkansas this year as there are certainties. So we caught up with the guys at Arkansas Expats to get their take on the situation in Fayetteville. Here's what they said.
What are the expectations of Ryan Mallett this year?
Arkansas Expats: Expectations are extremely high, as they should be. He's the best QB ever to wear a Razorback uniform, and if he's not the best college QB in the country this year he's very close to it. He threw for 30 TDs and only 7 INTs his first year with the Hogs, and now that he's had an additional year to mature and learn Petrino's system he should be even better. Plus, he's surrounded by as talented and deep array of skill position players as you'll find anywhere. But don't just take our word for it; we interviewed football guru Phil Steele this week and his prediction is that Mallett will be a lot better this year, particularly on the road.
So yeah, expectations are high -- after he throws for 85 TDs and 12,000 yards this year we're counting on him to clean up the Gulf oil spill and then maybe head to Afghanistan and straighten things out there.
The defense will be ...
Arkansas Expats: Slightly improved? That question mark is important because we really have no idea. Yes, we're returning a bunch of players from last year, but those same players didn't exactly set the world on fire. Observers we trust who watched the team in spring practice said the defense looks better, and intellectually it makes sense that they would improve with experience, so a small-but-hopefully-meaningful improvement seems about right. Obviously this isn't going to be a lockdown D, though - we'll remain skeptical until they actually stop someone with the game on the line.
You play Alabama on Sept. 25. Is that game "it," or is there a reason for other fans to watch the Razorbacks after that even if they lose?
Arkansas Expats: That's a huge game, of course, but it's far from the only game of the season. First of all, we travel to Athens to play Georgia the week before, so we need to win that one (not easy, especially considering we sucked on the road last year) to make the Bama game the major showdown people (including us) are hoping for. But no matter what happens in that game, we'd think non-Razorback fans would enjoy watching the Hogs no matter what...their offense is going to be super fun to watch, their defense will likely make the other team's offense super fun to watch, and their games will never be dull. So if you're flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon and come across an Arkansas game, definitely watch it. It'll be worth your while.
What is a successful season this year? Are fans buying into the SEC hype?
Arkansas Expats: That's a good question, and you'd likely get a variety of answers if you asked that question around Arkansas. The offense alone gives us the opportunity to have a really special season, although question marks on defense and (perhaps even more so) special teams could limit the top end of our potential. Personally, we'd love to see a 10 win season and a win in a "good" bowl game but the SEC is so tough you really never know...we could finish with the same record as last year if the balls bounce the wrong way, or we could wind up in Atlanta if they bounce the right way. Somewhere in between feels about right.
And yes, Razorback fans always buy into the high expectations. It's what we do best!
Do opposing fans ever look at you like you're crazy when you "call the Hogs"?
Arkansas Expats: Possibly, be we honestly don't care. In our scientific and unbiased opinion, the Hog call is one of the best -- if not the very best -- cheers in all of sports. It's unique, it's weird, it's intimidating, it's true to the culture of the state. It's also damn fun to do. If you get a group of three or more Arkansans together, chances are a Hog call will happen at some point no matter what the circumstances.
We thank the Expats for taking time to answer our questions -- without actually calling the Hogs, to our knowledge -- and remind you to check over there for your Arkansas news and commentary during the season.