Arkansas' expectations high after loss of Mallett

Updated: January 28, 2011, 6:36 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino opened with 25 seconds of reflection on Friday.

After the quick look back at the 2010 football season, Petrino went straight into what's next for the Razorbacks.

Petrino, in his first comments since Arkansas lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, hasn't spent much time looking back at last season quite yet. Rather than resting on the virtues of a 10-3 season, Petrino has been busy on the recruiting trail and is already looking ahead to spring practice and life after Ryan Mallett.

"There hasn't been a lot of time for reflection," Petrino said. "There hasn't been a whole lot (of time) to just sit down and think about the season."

Arkansas set or matched 48 individual or team records last season on its way to a season-ending No. 12 ranking, its highest since 1988. Mallett, who declared for the NFL draft after his junior season, set school records for career passing yards (7,493) and touchdown passes (62) in just two seasons.

Now it's up to Mallett's likely successors, Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell or Jacoby Walker, to step in and have immediate success if the Razorbacks are to attain Petrino's clearly stated goal of a national championship.

It's a goal Petrino believes is attainable next season at Arkansas despite Mallett's loss. Petrino finished 5-7 his first season with the Razorbacks in 2008 before improving to 8-5 and a Liberty Bowl win in 2009. The Sugar Bowl appearance was the Razorbacks' first BCS bowl game and marked the third straight year of improvement.

"It's obviously our goal," Petrino said. "I'm not sure when I learned it, but I learned a long time ago, I was taught if you have a goal and can't verbalize it, then you'll never achieve it.

"So, we talk about it. We want to win a national championship. That's what our goal is, that's what drives us."

Wilson enters the open quarterback competition with the most experience of those vying to fill Mallett's shoes. The sophomore has already gone through one competition, the one last spring that led to his backup role to Mallett, and he stepped in for an injured Mallett in the first half at Auburn.

Wilson threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns in leading Arkansas to a fourth-quarter lead over the eventual national champion Tigers, and Petrino said he would work with the first-team offense if spring practice were to begin today.

Helping whoever takes over at quarterback will be a bevy of returning skill position players, highlighted by running back Knile Davis, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Also, receiver Greg Childs will return after sustaining a midseason knee injury. He averaged 82.4 yards receiving per game before getting hurt, and he'll once again be flanked by talented teammates Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton.

"We've got talent all over the place," Wilson said. "It certainly makes my job a lot easier. There's a way to handle these guys, you've just got to get the ball to them and just maneuver the ball down the field.

"They're going to make big-time plays for you. You don't necessarily have to make it all happen yourself."

While the quarterback competition will dominate most of the offseason discussion, the Razorbacks do have other holes to fill. Those are primarily on the offensive line, which loses tackles Ray Dominguez and DeMarcus Love.

Arkansas returns seven starters on defense, including leading tackler Jerry Franklin at middle linebacker. It's a unit that made dramatic improvement last season, finishing fifth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and second in both sacks per game and tackles for loss.

"We have big expectations," Arkansas linebacker Tenarius Wright said. "We have goals to accomplish. We're going to go out and succeed at (them)."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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