I’ve been an outspoken critic of how Bobby Petrino became the Arkansas Razorbacks Head Coach. It was clearly the right move by Petrino, but obviously it came at a very wrong time. One thing is clear when it comes to Petrino and that’s the fact that he is one of the best offensive minds in college football. Since coming to Arkansas, the Razorbacks have posted a better record each and every year after starting 5-7 in Petrino’s debut season.
This season Arkansas went 11-2, losing only to the two teams that played in the BCS National Championship Game, and won their biggest bowl game since Petrino has been in Fayetteville (beating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl). Despite going 11-2 and improving their record every year, Petrino knows that he needs to keep pushing in order to over-take LSU and Alabama at the top of the SEC West. He proved this by firing his Defensive Coordinator, Willy Robinson in early December. Statistically, Arkansas wasn’t horrible on defense (47th in Nation in Total Defense and 33rd in Scoring Defense) but they were a good bit behind the top defenses in the conference. By making that move, Petrino has made it known that he won’t settle for being the third best in the SEC West. It will be very interesting to see if he can get his team to take the next step in 2012. To review the 2011 season for Arkansas, we caught up with BearlyDoug of GridironHistory.com. He is also the Webmaster and Co-Technical Administrator of Hogville.Net, the largest Razorbacks fan site on the internet.
CFBZ: Arkansas had a really good season in 2011 but lost their two biggest games (Bama and LSU). What was Arkansas missing last year that kept them from getting over the hump in the best division in football?
Doug: Having an aggressive defense and special teams not allowing mistakes to happen. We have good players on both of those teams, but the leadership wasn’t getting the job done (as evidenced by our coaching changes between the LSU game and the Cotton Bowl).
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Doug: Good memory: Having three SEC teams ranked #1, #2 and #3 in Polls going into the LSU game, a feat not achieved since the Big 8 days in the late 1970′s.
Bad memory: Losing to the #2 and then #1 team in the nation. Much like Nick Saban has Bobby Petrino’s number, Petrino usually has Les Miles’ number. Couple that with the fact that LSU (read Les miles) typically lays a huge rotten egg once a year (usually against Arkansas) and didn’t this year… had Arkansas beaten LSU, we could have royally mucked up the BCS even more than it was already this year. The simple fact is that Arkansas controlled its own destiny and came up just short, again.
CFBZ: Bobby Petrino has made a lot of coaching changes this off-season. Which
one do you think will have the biggest impact?
Doug: Many of the Hog faithful were absolutely crushed when we lost Coach McGee to UAB (most of the Hog fan base became instant UAB fans as a result of this). McGee was a *great* buffer between Petrino and our QBs. As bad as this sounds, losing a person of Color always hurts every team unless you’ve
got a replacement that can bring to the table what the previous person did.
Petrino landing Coach Paul Haynes (from Ohio State) was viewed by many as a *very* solid hire. Not at the level that Randy Shannon would have been, but at least Haynes does not bring any baggage with him. And realistically, when you hire a coach from the team that beat you in your first BCS Bowl
appearance, you’ve got to be doing something right.
Haynes may have only been with the Hogs for 30 days, but we saw a completely different defense at the Cotton Bowl this year. I don’t think we would have beaten Alabama on September 24th, but both the Bama and LSU games would have been a LOT closer had we brought the defensive unit that was present at the Cotton Bowl.
That change was achieved in a mere 30 days. Imagine what the next 8 months will bring. I do not see us being in the bottom 2/3rds of SEC Defensive stats for the 2012-13 campaign.
CFBZ: From an Arkansas perspective, what are you thoughts on Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC this season?
Doug: I am beyond ecstatic that Texas A&M is joining the SEC. They already have fan bases and facilities that are on par with many of the top tier SEC programs, and have some pretty good players. With a new coach taking their reigns and losing so many to graduations/NFL declarations, they will have an uphill battle next season, but I don’t think they’re going to do as badly as some people think.
As far as Mizzou is concerned, many people are saying that this is more of a natural rivalry than LSU is for the Hogs. I disagree, and to be honest, after Mizzou lifted her skirt up so many times the past two years trying to get into the B1G, I really did not want them in the SEC. As many people know, I was a big proponent of West Virginia coming in, which was (and IS) a far better SEC caliber team than Mizzou could have ever hoped to be. Simple fact of the matter is that Mizzou is in, and nothing will change that now. In my opinion, they tend to lack on many areas (facilities, fan support, etc). I truly believe that Mizzou’s ascension into the SEC ranks will go right on par with South Carolina’s ascension (*very* slow… good for a spoiler/shocker win, but… fizzles out at the end).
CFBZ: What do you see as the biggest opportunity areas for this team going into the off-season?
Doug: The fact that we did not have anyone on our team declare for the NFL early (meaning that we will have our biggest group of Seniors ever assembled next year with 26 of them) tells me that each and every one of our players believe that we will be staking our own claim on the championship. We’ve got
some very highly touted propsects that are narrowing down their choices to the Hogs and 1-2 other schools. Because we’re returning most of a *very* potent offense (remember, Tyler Wilson was picked off only 6 times last year) and we run a high octane scoring scheme, this has got to appeal to many recruits.
As long as Coach Haynes continues to improve out defensive schemes and aggressiveness, and we land the top 10 people we’re after, this is going to make for a very memorable and wild 2012-13 season.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big 12- Kansas Jayhawks