It wasn’t quite SEC championship or bust for Arkansas back in August, but the Hogs’ expectations were way up there.
They talked unabashedly about winning the school’s first SEC title and embraced the expectations for this club in Bobby Petrino’s third season in Fayetteville.
As it turns out, the Hogs (10-2) won’t be hanging any SEC championship banners, but they did accomplish the next best thing. They’re going to their first-ever BCS bowl after winning their last six games and playing their best football down the stretch.
Petrino and the leadership on this team deserve a lot of credit. The Hogs didn’t wilt after losing a close one at home to Alabama in September and then getting torched in the fourth quarter at Auburn a month later.
Arkansas played one of the toughest schedules in the SEC, facing six teams that ended the season in the final BCS standings. The Hogs won four of those games.
They were the only team in the country with a 3,000-yard passer (Ryan Mallett), a 1,000-yard rusher (Knile Davis) and five 500-yard receivers (Joe Adams, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Cobi Hamilton and D.J. Williams).
Davis’ emergence was huge for the Hogs, giving them that big-play threat in the running game. And you can’t say enough about the job Willy Robinson did with the defense. The Hogs were faster on defense, more consistent on defense and actually leaned on their defense at times this season.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Ryan Mallett. Recovering from the concussion he suffered against Auburn, Mallett closed the season like a champ. He’s only the fourth quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards and throw 30 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Jerry Franklin. He epitomized the Hogs’ defensive improvement with how steady he was all season long. Franklin led the team with 93 total tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. He was second with 6.5 sacks and had some of his best games in the Hogs’ biggest games.
Turning point: Two different games stick out. Following the loss to Alabama and then a bye, Arkansas bounced back to beat Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, which was especially important with Auburn coming up that next week. And then the game that really sent the Hogs on their way during their six-game winning streak was the 41-20 thrashing of South Carolina on the road.
What’s next: Arkansas takes on Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which will be the Hogs’ first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 1980. It’s also a chance to win 11 games in a season for the first time since 1977 and establish this program in Petrino’s third season as one of the elite programs in the SEC.