Premature Preview No. 6: Arkansas | Ole Miss Sports

In trying to help his fans understand the magnitude of what they’d just witnessed, Hugh Freeze early last December referenced the fact that Arkansas had beaten Troy by only 10. Minutes earlier Arkansas State had beaten Troy by 31 in securing the Sun Belt Conference championship.

That’s what passes for smack in the Ole Miss-Arkansas rivalry these days, a rivalry that for the last four years has been spiced by the fact that Arkansas was playing against a former coach that left that state with varying opinions about his popularity there.

These days Arkansas has too much on its plate to be worried about external issues. With the Bobby Petrino crash-affair-attempted cover-up and the arrest on burglary charges for three players, it’s a different scene in Fayetteville.

The Hogs brought in John L. Smith with a 10-month contract – kind of like term life insurance for what is expected to be a preseason top 10 team.

So there’s now one head coach between the Houston Nutt tenure at Arkansas and the present regime. For Smith, comparisons from the locals will be with Petrino, not Nutt.

Maybe there’s some closure to the bizarre circumstances from which Nutt left Arkansas. There’s not so much closure for Ole Miss fans and Nutt’s departure from the Rebels. Not enough water under the bridge yet.

I don’t suspect, however, that Arkansas fans will be as rude toward Freeze in Little Rock this fall as they were to Nutt on his two visits there as Ole Miss coach. The attitude from Arkansas to Arkansas State is indifference, right? We’ll see.

One thing Freeze can be certain to see is a Razorbacks team loaded with talent if not serenity.

Arkansas returns nine starters on offense, six on defense from a team that won 11 games last year. The Razorbacks were ranked in the top 3 in the BCS poll going into the final regular season game before getting pounded at LSU. Arkansas lost only to the two teams who played for the national championship – Alabama and LSU – but lost to them decisively.

The question for Arkansas has two parts: A. Are the experienced Razorbacks good enough to challenge in the SEC West. B. If A is yes, can they rise above the chaos and do it anyway.

The losses of receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs will be felt, perhaps lineman Grant Cook and Grant Freeman to a little lesser degree.

Losses will likely be off-set by the return of quarterback Tyler Wilson, who was first-team All-SEC by the coaches and the Associated Press.

The Razorbacks will also have running back Knile Davis, a 1,300-yard rusher who tore up his knee last summer and was not available for 2011.

Arkansas was fair on defense last year, not outstanding, and returns some young talent in the form of defensive lineman Trey Flowers and defensive back Tevin Mitchel, both SEC all-freshman honorees last year.

If the Rebels’ SEC losing streak is still active at this point, on paper this appears to be the game to stretch it to 16.