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Arkansas Tries to One Up Itself // SEC 2011

When Arkansas hired Bobby Petrino, last year is probably what the school administrators had in mind.

The Razorbacks averaged more than five touchdowns a game and just shy of 500 total yards per contest. Ryan Mallett posted a 163.7 passing efficiency with 3,869 yards, a 64.7% completion rate, and a 32-12 touchdown to interception ratio. Knile Davis blossomed into a 1,300+ yard rusher at a pace of over six yards per carry. Five different guys had over 600 receiving yards, and seven had at least four receiving touchdowns.

Arkansas won 10 games for the first time since 2006 and the second since 1989 when it was still in the old SWC. By all accounts it was a fantastic season, and it could have been even better absent Mallett's meltdown in the fourth quarter of the heartbreaking loss to Alabama. The Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State is even more infuriating now that we know the extent of the scandals there and that the Tattoo Five should never have seen the field.

But still, it was a banner year in Fayetteville and a validation of the Petrino hire. He took Louisville to a BCS bowl, which certainly is impressive, but now he's replicated that result in the SEC. His team finished second in the SEC West, and the only bad loss he took was to the eventual national champion. There isn't a whole lot to complain about.

So here's the challenge for 2011: try to beat that 2010 season.

Mallett is off to the NFL, but most of the rest of last season's principles are back. With Georgia rotating off the schedule and Tennessee coming on in exchange, the schedule is a little lighter. Tyler Wilson, who is replacing Mallett under center, performed more than admirably in relief against Auburn last season. Most signs are pointing to another great season.

The catch is that the place where the team must improve is not Petrino's area of expertise. By some measures, Arkansas's defense was pretty good. In conference play it tied for fourth in yards per play allowed, was fifth in passing efficiency defense, and was second in sacks. It also was eighth in yards per carry allowed (which doesn't factor out that excellence in sacks), seventh in interceptions, and ninth in points per game allowed. That last stat is skewed a bit by the 65 that Auburn scored on the Razorbacks, which is 24 more points than anyone else scored on them all season.

The good news is that of the two division favorites for 2011, Arkansas had Alabama on the ropes and actually beat LSU last year. Next season is a new season, but the Razorbacks have no reason to think they can't go toe-to-toe with the conference heavyweights. Petrino is at the top of his game as a play caller and head coach, and the defense has some great players like Jake Bequette.

Can Arkansas one up itself from last year? It won't be easy, but nothing ever is in this conference.