I've got to be really honest here, I don't think Marcus Harrison is the only Hog who could be classified as a midnight toker.
I don't understand the fascination the national media has with this team, and I certainly don't understand their fans' belief that they will have a great year.
Seriously, why should I?
To begin with, I'm really -- and I mean really -- not convinced that this team was that good last year. Yes, they won ten games, but I'm still not convinced. The simple truth is that now we are in an age of fourteen game schedules, and with that in mind merely winning ten games isn't that much of an accomplishment. Sure, Arkansas won ten games a year ago, but they also lost four, and really good teams don't lose four games in a year, end of story.
Moreover, who did they really beat? They only had one quality win all year long, and that was over Auburn, which truthfully wasn't that great to begin with. Aside from that, they lucked out against a 6-7 Alabama team, at home, when the Tide experienced the worst place-kicking meltdown in Alabama football history. They beat 7-5 South Carolina 26-20, in a game that was ultimately decided on a successful Hail Mary touchdown that ended the first half from Casey Dick to Marcus Monk. After that, who else? They squeaked by 4-8 Vanderbilt 21-19, beat 3-9 MSU 28-14 after the Bulldogs had a special teams breakdown. You get the idea. The only decent win aside from Auburn that the Hogs had all year was over Tennessee. And, just to be honest, Tennessee was pretty mediocre in 2006, and Arkansas faced them a week after they were beaten up by LSU in a heartbreaker, and with a back-up quarterback (Crompton).
Even if you look at them from an advanced perspective, they are a bit suspect. Last year, despite going 7-1 in conference play, they had only 6.13 Pythagorean Wins, and that puts them as the fourth most overachieving team in the conference. Moreover, in a historical perspective, 6.13 Pythagorean Wins is quite low for an SEC West champion. In fact, that is the lowest Pythagorean Win total of any team that finished first in the SEC West since LSU in 2001.
So... long story short, this team probably wasn't that good last year.
And this year, they lose a ton.
Offensively, they lost most of the offensive line from a year ago, and the passing game still looks terrible. The defense, which was largely the key of a year ago, has countless huge losses at nearly every position.
Beyond that, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Hogs. Wide receiver Marcus Monk went down on the first day in pads with a knee injury, and he's a big question mark. He may miss the Alabama game, and even if he does play, it's highly unlikely he'll be at 100%. Knee injuries are always a big concern regardless of where you play, but they are particularly anathema to skill position players. Marcus Harrison, too, expected to be the key cog on the interior defensive line, went down with a torn ACL in spring practice, and his health is an uncertainty.
Off-field issues, too, have created big problems. Defensive end Antwain Robinson was arrested earlier this summer for theft from a local Dillard's department store, and Marcus Harrison was arrested just days ago for possession of ecstasy and marijuana. And who can forget the melodrama that has been Arkansas football the past few months, and the fact that Houston Nutt is very much at the center of all of that melodrama?
Many Hog fans -- addressing their woeful quarterback play -- seem to think that David Lee, the new offensive coordinator, will come in and make a big impact on quarterback Casey Dick. For whatever reason, many Hog fans think that he was the one responsible for the emergence of Tony Romo with the Dallas Cowboys, and that argument is suspect as can be. For one, he was quarterbacks coach in Dallas in 2005 and 2006, and generally the quarterback play was mediocre at best. Drew Bledsoe was mediocre at best in 2005, finishing up 14th in the league in DPAR, and 19th in the league in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Then in 2006, Bledsoe fell apart (38th in DPAR, and 39th in DVOA), and even Romo was good but not great against a terrible NFC (10th in DPAR and 9th in DVOA). All told, that's nothing particularly great from the quarterback position, especially considering most of that time they had two of the best receivers in football (Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn), not to mention two of the better pass receiving tight ends as well (Anthony Fasono and Jason Witten). Obviously, he doesn't have anywhere near that Arkansas, and that's only exacerbated by Monk's injury. And beyond that, plain and simple, Casey Dick is no Tony Romo. The truth is that the Arkansas' quarterback play, regardless of the presence of David Lee, will be among the worst in the conference. And that's what we've seen thus far in Fall practice for the Hogs. In the first scrimmage, Dick went 4-10 for 30 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and his back-up, Nathan Emert was 4-17 for 11 yards. Same story, different year, different person to blame when the QB rating falls through the floor.
And then you have the constituency of Arkansas fans that think the Wildcat formation will give opposing defenses nightmares. Some have this notion that it's such a unique formation that it will be very difficult for opposing defensive coordinators to come up with a response for it. But why in the world would that be? The fact of the matter is that the Wildcat formation is nothing more than a variant of the old Single-Wing formation, and that damn thing was going on the way out back when Hitler was in power. It's really simple, as defenses become more complex, the Single-Wing was just too one-dimensional, and it went out the window. Shortly after World War II, the formation had given way to the T-Formation and others. Now why in the world would defensive coordinators not be able to stop it? After all, their grandfathers figured it out, and they did out without modern niceties like, you know, game film. It's another flimsy argument.
Then there's Darren McFadden. And if you've read my writing before, you know I think very highly of him. In my opinion, he has a combination of size, speed, and agility that this conference has not seen since Bo Jackson left Auburn after the 1985 season. But I also know this: football is the ultimate team sport, and if all you have is one great player, you have nothing. I don't proclaim to be the second-coming of Bill Walsh in terms of football knowledge, but I've picked up a thing or two over the years, and the short and simple fact of the matter is that this isn't NCAA '08 on varsity mode, it's highly competitive football with some great minds and great athletic abilities. If all Arkansas has is a great tailback (or two, with Jones), but a mediocre offensive line, a poor passing game, and a mediocre defense, Arkansas isn't going to have a very good year, even though McFadden is, admittedly, the best thing since sliced bread.
Moreover, why would Arkansas win ten games again this year? The truth is that only twice in the 100+ year history of Arkansas football have they won ten games or more in consecutive seasons, and they've never done it as a member of the SEC. With all that they have going against them, why would they this year? Some are even saying they have a chance at going 12-1 or perhaps even undefeated, but again, why? Even in his best season, Houston Nutt has lost at least three games each year he has been in Fayetteville, and only once has he lost fewer than four (1998). Again, why would that change this year?
Also, apparently some Hogs get their panties in a wad when you speak about them in this light. Granted, I don't understand it, considering that it doesn't matter if we don't win another game for the next one-hundred years it still doesn't mean Arkansas is going to be any good. If anything, though, that sharp response probably only verifies the fact that there are valid underlying concerns. As Eric Hoffer once said:
At bottom, I just don't get it. I don't think Arkansas will be very good, and I really doubt that they'll be ranked at season's end. I feel very safe in saying that this will be a long, very long, season for the Hogs, and their through-the-roof expectations are only going to make it that much more painful. Teams don't have what they have and go through what they've gone through and still come out smelling like roses on the other side.
They better have it together for Troy. They aren't as tough as the Trojans from Southern California, but this is one of the better non-BCS teams in the country, and with Monk, Harrison, and others sitting on the bench, they better bring their A-game or they will be knocked off. Troy has knocked off some big boys before (2004 Missouri), came close on other occasions (2004 LSU, and 2006 FSU), and this may well be their best team to date. Arkansas could become another bullet point on Troy's resume, they had better show up and play well even while missing some key players.
And if Darren McFadden gets hurt...