If there was any silver lining in the cloud that hovered over the Arkansas program when coach Bobby Petrino was fired, it is that it happened in the spring, leaving time for the Razorbacks not only to come up with a replacement in John L. Smith but also for the players to adjust.
Smith not only has experience has a head coach in stops at Michigan State, Louisville, Utah State, and Idaho, but he also served as an Arkansas assistant from 2009 until last December when he took the head job at Weber State.
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He gave up that latter post to return to Arkansas with an unusual 10-month contract.
"I think we've handled it pretty well as a team," running back Knile Davis said of the transition. "I think if anything's happened from the coaching change, I think we've gotten closer.
"I think we had a good replacement in John L. I think it's great that he kept the coaching staff that we already had so the transition has been easier than most people think."
Smith himself called the transition "the easiest it could be."
"One guy walking back in the door just reaffirmed that it's going to be the same, it's going to be pretty much the same as much as it can be," he said. "All of these coaches are still here."
And so are players like quarterback Tyler Wilson, the SEC's top passer in 2011, as well as a trio of running backs in Davis, Dennis Johnson, and Ronnie Wingo Jr. who figure to give the running game a huge boost.
The key will be how the defense performs. It looked good in the win over Kansas State, when new coordinator Paul Haynes took over. But it gave up a generous 167-yards-per-game rushing for the year.
"We know that to be a champion, in the past, all national champions have really stopped the run very well," said linebacker Tenarius Wright, who spent last year at defensive end. "That's our goal, to be able to stop the run and limit the big plays in the passing game."
HEAD COACH: John L. Smith, first year at Arkansas, 132-86 record as a head coach.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Tyler Wilson -- Although the defense is expected to be much better, the offense is going to determine if the Razorbacks are to contend in the SEC West, and Wilson is the triggerman. He passed for nearly 280 yards a game in 2011. With the improved running game and without receivers like Jarius Wright and Joe Adams no longer around, Wilson may not match that figure, but he still will be the No. 1 weapon for the Hogs.
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BREAKOUT STAR: LB Tenarius Wright -- Moved from end, Wright will be a key figure in what looks to be an improved defense. He missed five games last year with an arm injury but finished the year strong, recording five-tackle games against LSU in the regular-season finale and against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl win. He is an excellent pass rusher who should thrive at his new position.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Demetrius Wilson -- With the Razorbacks looking for help at the position, Wilson has an edge over freshmen wideouts because of his experience as a junior college transfer. He had 51 receptions last year at Glendale Community College in Arizona. Among them were 10 for touchdowns.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: RBs Davis and Dennis Johnson must stay healthy and give the Hogs' offense a running game to complement Wilson's passing. WR Cobi Hamilton is an all-conference candidate, but the Hogs need to develop depth at wide receiver. The defense must live up to the promise it showed in the Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Obviously, the defense has to improve, especially against the run. The Razorbacks yielded over 167 yards a game to opposing rushers in 2011. New coordinator Paul Haynes got a great performance out of his unit in the bowl win over Kansas State after taking over the job, but can the Hogs maintain that edge over an entire season?
-- QB Wilson holds nine Arkansas records, including pass attempts (438) and completions (277) in a season, and should challenge for at least one more career mark this year. With 344 completions, he needs 185 more to overtake Clint Stoerner's record of 528. Wilson's completion percentage of 62.9 is currently the best in school history. He has a comfortable margin over No. 2 Ryan Mallett (60.3).
-- WR Hamilton is Arkansas' leading returning receiver after catching 34 passes for 518 yards in 2011. He has 85 career receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns and ranks 11th in school history in TD receptions. Marcus Monk holds the school record with 27 followed by Jarius Wright with 24 and Anthony Lucas with 23, but Hamilton will move into the No. 4 spot on the list with five more touchdown receptions.
-- WR Marquel Wade, WR Maudrecus Humphrey, and TE Andrew Peterson are not on the roster. They have entered not guilty pleas to felony charges that they burglarized students' rooms and their status will be reviewed when the legal process has completed its run, according to coach John L. Smith.
-- OL Jason Peacock pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge and was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Peacock was charged with taking another student's debit card and using it to buy gas. Peacock started nine games last season and is expected to start this season.