- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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After spending the past 18 months at Arkansas -- without having taken a snap yet for the Razorbacks in an official game -- quarterback Ryan Mallett has become somewhat of an urban legend.
The stories about Mallett's talents are kind of like the campus rumors about moving vans pulling into Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's driveway every night. You know, just in case Petrino wants to go somewhere in a hurry.
Mallett's teammates have been gushing about his talent ever since he transferred to Arkansas from Michigan in January 2008. Mallett sat out the 2008 season under NCAA transfer rules, and spent most of last fall working against the first-team defense as the Hogs' scout-team quarterback.
After Arkansas fans watched Casey Dick throw for 2,586 yards with 13 touchdowns in Petrino's pass-happy offense last season, they couldn't help but wonder what the strong-armed Mallett might do.
"I can't wait," Mallett said. "It's been a long year. I'm just ready to get started."
The Razorbacks open the season Sept. 5 against FCS opponent Missouri State at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark. With 18 starters coming back, and Mallett taking over under center, Arkansas might be one of the most improved teams in the country.
"One thing Ryan can really do is throw the deep ball," Petrino said. "If we can run the ball better and run the ball more consistently, it should open up our deep passing game and the ability to get the ball down the field. That's something I've always loved to do and really believe in doing, because then you don't have to call so many plays."
First, let's sort the facts about Mallett from the myths:
Myth: Mallett's "fastball" was clocked at 112 mph, as Hogs tight end D.J. Williams told reporters at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.
Fact: Mallett throws the football really, really hard. Mallett said he has never had his passes clocked by a radar gun. But Williams said he had to remove his gloves a few times during passing drills this summer to make sure Mallett's passes didn't break his fingers.
"He's got one of the strongest arms I've ever seen," Williams said. "In practice, I've got to bring a couple of pairs of gloves because he tears the gripping off with his passes."
Myth: Petrino thought the Wolverines had mistakenly sent him former Michigan offensive lineman Justin Boren when Mallett first arrived in Fayetteville, Ark.
Fact: Petrino knew it wasn't Boren, who transferred to Ohio State, but he wasn't sure if Mallett was going to play quarterback or left tackle. Mallett, who is 6-foot-7, weighed a whopping 265 pounds in January 2008. He has lost more than 25 pounds in the past 18 months, dropping his weight below 240.
"The first thing we did with him was try to get him to lose as much weight as he could so he can move around and do more things," Petrino said. "He did a nice job of that. With him losing the weight and being more mobile, we're not gonna lose our movement game, our ability to run sprint-outs, run the bootlegs and be able to move the pocket. In this league, with the defensive ends we face, it's important that you change the launch point and set your quarterback up at different spots."
Mallett said he lost the weight by avoiding fast food and working with the team's strength and conditioning staff. Mallett said he knew he'd have to be more mobile to play against SEC defenses.
"It was a long process," Mallett said. "It's going to be a big help to me, as far as my mobility in and out of the pocket. Everybody says the SEC is faster, and I have no doubt it's true."
Myth: New Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez ran Mallett out of Michigan.
Fact: Mallett left Michigan on his own because he didn't want to operate in a run-based offense.
Mallett played in 11 games as a freshman at Michigan in 2007, completing 43.3 percent of his passes for 892 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He started three games for the injured Chad Henne, including games against Notre Dame and Penn State.
When Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr retired after the 2007 season, Michigan hired Rodriguez from West Virginia to replace him. Mallett knew Rodriguez's spread offense wasn't a good fit for him. Mallett decided to leave Ann Arbor after his first face-to-face meeting with Rodriguez.
"As far as what Coach Rodriguez wants his quarterbacks to do, we both agreed it wasn't for me," Mallett said. "I decided to take a pass and let him get his own guy in there to be successful."
After Mallett decided to leave Michigan, he also considered transferring to UCLA, Tennessee and Texas A&M. But Mallett chose the Razorbacks because of Petrino's pass-happy offense. Under Petrino, Arkansas broke eight school records in 2008, including season marks for pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards and passing yards per game.
"The thing about his offense is it's really explosive," Mallett said. "It's kind of like getting in a new car with a bunch of switches. It's kind of like a new Maserati. You get to flip them all and go really fast."
Myth: Mallett didn't sign with Arkansas out of high school because he was afraid of competing against Mitch Mustain.
Fact: Mallett grew up an Arkansas fan, but didn't think he'd get much of a chance to play for the Hogs after Mustain enrolled there.
Mustain was the 2005 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and was among the most celebrated recruits to ever sign with the Razorbacks. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt wanted Mustain so badly he hired Mustain's high school coach, Gus Malzahn, as the Hogs' offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Malzahn guided Springdale (Ark.) High School to a 14-0 record and Class 5A state championship in 2005.
Mustain started and won eight consecutive games as a freshman for the Razorbacks in 2006. But he lost the starting job to Dick late in the season. By the beginning of the 2007 season, Mustain had transferred to USC, and Malzahn had left to become offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Nutt was forced out at Arkansas after the 2007 season and was hired as head coach at SEC rival Ole Miss a few days later.
A native of Texarkana, Texas, Mallett grew up cheering for the Razorbacks. When Mallett decided to leave Michigan, Arkansas was the most logical place to go.
"I'd seen the campus a million times, having lived so close to here," Mallett said. "I saw what kind of numbers they put up in coach Petrino's system last year. I wanted a chance to put up a bunch of points and win a lot of ball games."
Myth: With Mallett stepping in at quarterback, the Razorbacks will challenge Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss for the SEC West title.
Fact: The Razorbacks might be one of the most improved teams in the country, but their record might not reflect how much better they'll be. Arkansas' schedule is one of the most difficult in the country, with road games at Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU. The Hogs also play Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina at home and play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas.
"It's gonna be hard," Petrino said. "We play a good schedule. We will be better. We'll be a better football team. We'll play better. We'll execute better in all three phases. How many wins that come out to is yet to be seen."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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