We are indeed blessed to be joined by the guys from SBN’s Arkansas Expats for the last edition of this year’s blogger exchange. Check out our thoughts on their meticulous interrogation over here:
1) With all the suspension news in Columbus, what’s your take on the NCAA’s decision to let these guys play?
Well, objectively speaking, it’s hard for us to really justify why, if an offense is worth suspending players for, the suspension can be postponed until *after* the upcoming big game. We suspect there are a lot of players and fans at other schools (the A.J. Green situation at Georgia comes to mind) who find that more than a little curious. More than anything, the whole debacle just illustrates the ridiculousness of the NCAA and it’s enforcement policies.
But, speaking as Razorback fans, we’re very, very glad the Tat 5 are going to be playing. We’d rather have our best go up against your best, without any excuses either way regarding the outcome. It’s more appropriate competitively, and it’s a lot more fun to watch as fans. So yeah, in this case we’re happy that it all turned out the way it did.
2) In a similar vein- Clearly you had a very impressive season, and it may have been even better if it weren’t for Auburn. Are there any strong negative feelings towards Cam Newton among the Arkansas faithful?
It’s hard to speak for the entire fanbase here, but yeah, there’s naturally some resentment about how the whole Cam Newton situation went down. No matter what the NCAA ruled (and they don’t have much credibility…see answer #1), that whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test. If he indeed wound up at Auburn under any shady circumstances, then the fact is that he shouldn’t have been on the field against the Hogs, and we’re quite confident that a Newtonless Auburn would have been a significantly less formidable opponent.
Still, the fact is, he was ruled eligible and he was most definitely on the field when the Hogs and Tigers played. He was absolutely amazing in that game, as he’s been pretty much throughout the season. So, more than anything, we have to respect the guy and his ability…he’s easily the best player the Razorbacks faced all year (and it’s really not even close).
(But, if Auburn winds up getting some NCAA sanctions out of all this we won’t shed many tears.)
3) How do you see Ryan Mallett’s future playing out in the NFL? Do you see him being a pro bowler?
We are very far from NFL scouts…it’s always a little surprising to see which excellent college players fail in the big leagues, and which surprising ones excel. But, with that in mind, Ryan Mallett does seem to have a bright future ahead of him. So much of it depends on where a player winds up – if he has the misfortune of being drafted by one of the crappier organizations he might never be heard from again, but if he lands on team with a solid structure for success we think he’ll do really well.
He’s not the most mobile QB in the world, but he can make all the throws and is a natural leader. If anything, he’s actually been a little underrated this year – after a bad 4th quarter against Alabama washed away the Heisman hype, he’s quietly put together a really great season. His completion percentage is up about 10% and he threw for 30 TDs. We wish him well next year (assuming he leaves) but will certainly miss having him around.
4) Arkansas’ potent offense has been the focus of much of the game’s coverage thus far; tell us what has made the difference for your defense, particularly in the last half of the season. Anyone we should know that hasn’t gotten a lot of press?
The defense doesn’t have a lot of name players, but they’ve been quite solid after a disastrous 2009 season. Although the Razorback D isn’t up to OSU’s caliber, they’ve made huge contributions to a lot of our biggest wins this year. This year’s squad shares most of the same players as last year’s, so the improvement is probably largely attributed to a successful learning curve and more experience. The longer they’ve played together, the more they’ve gelled as a unit and clicked with what the coaches are trying to do…we suppose you could say the proverbial light bulb went off, and now the players are reacting more quickly and playing with more confidence.
As far as specific guys, we’ll throw a few names at you: LB Jerry Williams, DE Jake Bequette, DE Tramain Thomas, LB Anthony Leon, LB Jerico Nelson.
5) Looking ahead to next year, what are the expectations to follow up on a very successful year that has ended in this trip to the Sugar Bowl?
Obviously Mallett’s expected departure for the NFL will hurt (as will the absence of TE D.J. Williams), but Bobby Petrino has built enough of an offensive machine that we don’t anticipate a huge dropoff. Backup QB Tyler Wilson performed well when Mallett went down against Auburn, and it appears that all the WRs and RBs will be back. We’ll lose some key guys on defense, too, but once again the depth there is strong enough that we have replacements at the ready.
Bottom line, we’d expect a slight step back from this year, but in the long term Petrino has put a nice foundation for success in place and we really, really like the direction the program is going. Even if we don’t make a BCS game next season, we’ll be back soon enough.