FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas opens the 2012 season against Jacksonville State.
It’s a nonconference game against an opponent from a lower level (Football Championship Subdivision). So the Razorbacks, who are heavy favorites, have much bigger tests looming. But the way Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson sounded Monday, the Razorbacks are preparing for an enormous opportunity tonight.
"This is a statement game for us," Wilson said. "This is the first time you guys are going to see us live and the rest of our state. And we’re going to put on a show."
Arkansas, which is five months removed from Bobby Petrino’s program-shaking motorcycle ride, as well as a handful of arrests and dismissals, finally emerges from the shadows of an ugly offseason when it plays Jacksonville State at 6 p.m.
The Razorbacks are under new leadership in John L. Smith, who will work the sideline as a head coach for the first time since 2006. But Wilson and the Razorbacks see the opener as an opportunity to prove little else has changed with the program as it begins a journey Arkansas hopes will end with championships.
"A lot of people have questions about this team with everything that’s gone on," Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. "But we haven’t had any personnel changes. We have the same coaches, and we have a coach who’s been here in this program.
"So it’s not like there’s been any change in philosophy. … I know people have questions about us, so we’re going to try and show them we’re the same team."
The Razorbacks are trying to add another impressive chapter to its recent run, which included last season’s 11-2 finish and a No. 5 ranking. Familiar faces like Wilson, running back Knile Davis, linebacker Tenarius Wright and receiver Cobi Hamilton remain, too, helping Arkansas earn a preseason No. 10 ranking.
Smith said his team isn’t concerned about the preseason positioning, though.
The goal, beginning tonight, is to take a step toward a championship.
"We have to have singleness of purpose, singleness of vision and make sure we concentrate," Smith said. "It can’t be next week. It has to be this week. It has to be this play, this moment in time. If we learn to do that we can be a good football team."
Smith, who is nearing the halfway point of the 10-month contract he agreed to in returning last April, hasn’t been shy about embracing expectat