Praise be. Football practice starts tomorrow. That's why we thought it would be a great time to pester ArkansasSports360.com's Chris Bahn, who does an outstanding job of covering the Hogs, about this year's football team. We recently e-mailed a handful of questions over to Chris. Some of his answers appear below, and some of them appear on ArkansasSports360.com in a Q&A that also incorporates questions from other fans. So when you're done here, be sure to head over to AS360 to get more of Chris' take on the 2009 Razorbacks.
Expats: First off, the quarterback situation: Do you see Ryan Mallet living up to the hype, and how big of a role do you see Tyler Wilson playing this season?
Bahn: It's rare to find guys that live up to the expectations that media and fans burden them with. That said, Ryan Mallett should prove to be a significant upgrade at quarterback from what the Razorbacks have had in recent seasons. Provided Mallett keeps his footwork sharp and puts himself in favorable situations on and off the field, I don't think it's too much to ask that he set the Razorback record for passing yards in a season. Casey Dick came awfully close last year and his tools were nothing compared to Mallett, who threw for 892 yards and seven touchdowns at Michigan in 2007.
Bobby Petrino has used a two-quarterback system in the past as a head coach at Louisville and an assistant at other places, so it's safe to assume that Tyler Wilson will see some action. He was making a strong push for playing time before mono sidelined him in 2008. Now that Wilson understands the concepts of calling plays in the huddle and taking a snap from center, he should be an even better quarterback. I've said it a lot, but either choice is an upgrade and a benefit to Arkansas, simply because there's been consistent competition.
Expats: By and large, the defense was pretty dreadful last season. How likely is that unit to significantly improve?
Bahn: It can't get worse can it?
Last year the Razorbacks got just 11 interceptions from their defensive backs. They ranked in the bottom half of the country in pass efficiency defense and nobody in the SEC gave up more passing touchdowns or rushing yards.
Arkansas will upgrade in experience. It upgrades in depth on the defensive line and in the secondary. Overall, the defense upgrades. Will it be enough to help win games? The jury is out.
Expats: Speaking of lousy performances, special teams has been a thorn in the Hogs' side for a while. We'll repeat the last part of the previous question: How likely is that unit to significantly improve?
Bahn: What I like most about Bobby Petrino so far is that he identifies weaknesses and deficiencies on his team, and then he develops a clear plan for improving them. Arkansas clearly needs improvement on special teams, so Petrino brings buddy and special teams guru John L. Smith out of retirement to help out. Smith's attention to detail and coaching abilities were on display in the spring, when Arkansas spent more time the first week on special teams than it did the entire 15 spring practices of 2008. Smith immediately sought to help the psyche of inconsistent place kicker Alex Tejada, who was just 4 of 9 on field goals. Losing a consistent performer like Jeremy Davis at punter won't help, but the overall performance of special teams figures to be better.
Expats: Once again, the Hogs have a fairly brutal schedule (is there any other kind in the SEC?). If the Hogs are to pull off an upset or two, which teams are the most probable victims?
Bahn: Nationally, the trendy upset pick seems to be Georgia in Fayetteville on Sept. 19. It's possible, but from here, upsetting Ole Miss in Oxford on Oct. 24 seems much more likely. Bobby Petrino and Arkansas players didn't care much for letting the Ole Miss game slip away from them in 2008. And Houston Nutt teams generally fair better when flying under the radar, not getting oodles of preseason attention. Arkansas should beat South Carolina at home, which probably doesn't seem like an upset, but the Gamecocks did beat the Razorbacks in 2008.
In the mood for more Bahn-led Hog talk? He answers more of our questions - as well as those from other fans - in this Q&A on ArkansasSports360.com.