By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has plenty of reasons
to pat itself on the back for accomplishments in 2010.
The Razorbacks, after all, won 10 games for just the second time since joining the
Southeastern Conference in 1992. They closed the regular season with a six-game win streak. And it all helped the Hogs earn a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game for the first time.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino admits it was impressive but hadn’t really had time to look back and reflect when he met with the media Friday. Being on the recruiting trail ever since the end of the Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State was one reason. More important, he said the Razorbacks already have their sites set on the future.
"We didn’t achieve all the goals we set, but I really feel like we had a successful football season," Petrino said, taking a brief look back. "It was a group of young men that were very dedicated, were a lot of fun to coach and did a lot of really good things here last year.
"Now we’re looking forward to the 2011 season. Our preparation for that has already started."
Arkansas may have taken many by surprise last winter when the Razorbacks went through the offseason insisting they were capable of winning championships in 2010.
After falling a couple games short of that chance, it should be no surprise the Razorbacks are spending the early part of the winter dreaming big once again.
In fact, Arkansas isn’t shying away about the fact it believes a national championship is in reach even though the team must replace instrumental leaders like quarterback Ryan Mallett, tight end D.J. Williams, cornerback Ramon Broadway and tackle DeMarcus Love.
"They are high," said Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who will be counting on as one of the team’s new leaders. "They are very high. I think obviously we go into every game with the expectation that we can win. It’s going to be no different this season. I think all the guys think that as well. I know talking to them we set our goals high and a national championship is among those goals."
The departures will take some getting used to, but Arkansas has an abundance of talent returning.
All four of Arkansas’ top wide receivers (Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton) are back. So, too, is the SEC’s leading returning rusher in Knile Davis and three other backs in Ronnie Wingo Jr., Broderick Green and Dennis Johnson. A defense that showed vast improvement in 2010 brings back starters like Jake Bequette, Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas, D.D. Jones and Jerico Nelson.
Will it be enough to emerge from a division that has produced three national champions (Auburn, Alabama and LSU) in the past four seasons? That remains to be seen.
But Petrino doesn’t want his team hiding from the possibilities as it moves through the offseason.
"I’m not sure when I learned it, but a long time ago I was taught that if you have a goal and you can’t verbalize it, then you’ll never achieve it," Petrino said. "So we talk about it. We want to win a national championship. That’s what our goal is. That’s what drives us.
"I think when you see our players and our recruits get around our players that they get that sense of confidence and the feeling that we’re going to get it done."
The Arkansas coaching staff is currently wrapping up its efforts on the recruiting trail for the 2011 class, which will be announced Wednesday. Players have been taking part in the team’s offseason workouts, running, lifting weights and throwing and catching with quarterbacks and receivers.
The loss to Ohio State, in which Arkansas rallied from an big first-half deficit and had chances to win late, has been a source of inspiration in the workouts.
"I think there is a little bit of discouragement about the way things ended there at New Orleans because we had a chance to win there," Wilson said. "So everybody is motivated to achieve goals we have set for next season."
Getting there, though, will require another dedicated effort during the offseason. Arkansas understands how much it can pay off after enjoying a 10-3 record in 2010.
It was a nice year. But now the Hogs expect even more.
"That’s the goal of everyone," Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright said. "We want to be in that seat, to be able to say we’re going to the national championship. But the offseason is going to really define it. We’re going to try to come out and work hard so we can reach that goal."