The Arkansas Razorbacks check in at No. 13 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Tyler Wilson, QB
Wilson was the first Razorbacks signal caller to be named first-team All-SEC since the Hogs joined the league in 1992. Obviously his 3,638 passing yards and 24 touchdown throws were excellent numbers, but Wilson’s efficiency in tossing only six interceptions in 438 attempts was also impressive. The Greenwood native will have to find new favorite targets this season but should have a stellar senior season.
Upset Alert: at Auburn (Oct. 6)
The Razorbacks have to travel to the Lone Star State the week before Auburn to take on SEC newcomer Texas A&M, and then head to the always-challenging environment of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers went through a rebuilding season last year of the national championship campaign of 2010. Gene Chizik’s crew will be improved this season, and the Hogs will have to bring their top game to Auburn.
Trap Game: at Mississippi State (Nov. 17)
Once again, the Hogs will be on the second leg of two straight road trips when they take on the Bulldogs. Arkansas plays a very tough game at South Carolina on November 10 and hosts rival LSU on November 23, the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Razorbacks cannot overlook a Mississippi State that is desperate to score an SEC West win outside of Ole Miss.
Defensive MVP: Alonzo Highsmith, LB
The senior linebacker is Arkansas’ leading retuning tackler, finishing last season with 80 stops, 4.5 sacks and one interception. There was bad news in March as Highsmith missed the entire spring practice period with an injury to his left pectoral muscle. He should be healthy for the fall, and the active backer will need to be the leader of a defense that lost top tacklers Jerry Franklin and Tramain Thomas.
Breakout Player: Cobi Hamilton, WR
Arkansas should have another powerful offense this season, and Hamilton looks like the next star receiver in Fayetteville. With Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright now in the NFL, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Hamilton will assume the role as top pass catcher. He had 34 catches for 542 yards and four scores in 2011, and Hamilton should be one of the top wideouts in the SEC this season.
Unsung Hero: Tenarius Wright, DE/LB
The Memphis pass rusher has established himself as a solid SEC defensive end over three seasons, but he will make the selfless move to linebacker this fall to help out a thin unit on the defense. Wright had five tackles for loss in eight games in 2011, and his senior leadership and team-first transition to linebacker will be valuable to the Hogs this season.
Comeback player: Knile Davis, RB
The long-anticipated return of Davis will provide a major boost to the Arkansas offense this fall. He became a star in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. In fact, he totaled 1,028 yards and 12 scores in the last seven games of that Sugar Bowl season. A severe ankle injury kept Davis out of action last year, but he should provide great balance to the powerful Hogs passing game in 2012.
Biggest Game: Alabama (Sept. 15)
The Razorbacks have lost five straight to the Crimson Tide, but the defending national champions lost several stars to the NFL. Alabama will always present a tough challenge, but this game is in Fayetteville and could be a springboard for an amazing season. If the defense can keep the Hogs in it, Wilson and company could pull off a meaningful upset.
Revenge Game: LSU (Nov. 24)
The Hogs were leading the undefeated Tigers last year in Baton Rouge, 14-0, in the middle of the second quarter. LSU roared back for a 21-14 halftime lead, and Arkansas only trailed by a touchdown after three quarters before the SEC champions took over late. This year’s game in Fayetteville will be a chance to pay back Les Miles’ bunch, and the Razorbacks were victorious the last two times the Tigers traveled to Arkansas.
Freshman to Watch: Otha Peters, LB
The inside linebacker from Louisiana has the size and strength to play early at Arkansas. Peters was a Tennessee verbal throughout the recruiting process before flipping to the Razorbacks in the final week before Signing Day. With leading tackler Jerry Franklin gone and a spring injury to Alonzo Highsmith, the linebacking group will be looking for help. Peters should get in the mix right away.
Position Battle: Wide receiver
Cobi Hamilton will lead the receiver group and Chris Gragg is a solid tight end, but the Razorbacks offense needs more than one outside threat for All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson. No other returning wideouts caught 10 balls last season. Marquel Wade, Julian Horton, Javontee Herndon, Keante Minor and Maudrecus Humphrey are among the candidates to emerge as a complement to Hamilton and Gragg. However, Wade and Humphrey are suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident in May.
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