I'm hearing a lot of overrated/underrated talk, so college football must be right around the corner.
ESPN colleague Travis Haney has jumped right into the mix, listing a few teams in the Top 25 that he considers overrated and underrated.
The only SEC team to make his list is Arkansas. The Razorbacks are actually mentioned twice. He listed them as "underrated" in 2011, after they began the season ranked 14th, but finished fifth. Arkansas rose as high as third in the BCS standings last season and were a win over LSU away from playing in the SEC title game.
But he also has Arkansas in the overrated category for 2012, as the Hogs will enter the fall ranked 10th.
Haney talks about Arkansas being equipped with the talent to make a run this fall, but he also mentions the fact that we still don't know how this team will react at the first sign of adversity with interim coach John L. Smith taking over for the fired Bobby Petrino. And I totally agree with that point. I've been saying it since he was hired that while the players adore Smith and basically pleaded with athletic director Jeff Long to hire a very familiar face, we don't know how much control he'll have or how much respect he'll demand/get if things go wrong.
So far, he's done a good job of running the team, but how much he'll do this fall is yet to be seen.
Outside of Petrino's absence, I still have questions about the defense. This unit wasn't great last year, ranking eighth or worse in four major defensive categories (scoring defense, passing defense, rushing defense and total defense), but new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes does bring a more aggressive style to Fayetteville, which I think will help this unit out tremendously. Like Smith's leadership qualities, we'll have to wait and see with Haynes' style and the impact it has on Arkansas' defense.
With that said, I can't say that I think that Arkansas is overrated heading into the season. Tenth seems about right to me, considering the talent coming back and the fact that Alabama and LSU are both at home. At least getting a split between those two wouldn't be a surprise at all.
There is a lot of firepower on offense, starting with quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg. All four could be All-SEC performers. The offensive line is older and wiser and there are some solid young receivers lurking. This offense will put up points.
The defense returns six starters and should be strong within the front seven, even with Jake Bequette gone. Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright could be a deadly combo at linebacker, while there is solid depth at defensive tackle, led by Byran Jones, Robert Thomas and D.D. Jones. There will be some growing pains for this unit under Haynes, but I expect to see more production overall on this side of the ball.
I'm not saying this team will win the SEC West, but it has the talent to compete for the title to the very end. The defense might need some help from the offense, but something tells me that won't be a problem most of the time.