Tyler Wilson is no Ryan Mallett. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Mallett, who left school a year early for the NFL, was a larger-than-life figure in Fayetteville. Last fall the slow-footed, rifle-armed quarterback directed a high-powered offense that keyed Arkansas to its first BCS bowl game and its first 10-win season since 2006.
A guy like that is hard to replace, but offensive coordinator Garrick McGee likes what he's seen from the more mobile Wilson, a redshirt junior. "I don't see any drop-off in production," says McGee. "In a lot of ways Tyler can deliver the ball better than Ryan. He doesn't have to have his feet set to make accurate passes."
The 6'3", 220-pound Wilson has never made a collegiate start, nor has coach Bobby Petrino officially designated him the starter—though Wilson has taken nearly all of the first-team reps during camp and was voted one of six captains by teammates. But it's not as if stepping in to replace Mallett will be anything new. Wilson threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns in relief of the injured Mallett in a wild 65--43 loss at Auburn last year. "The thing we'll miss is the leadership and confidence Ryan had," says McGee.
That Wilson can throw without setting his feet should serve him well this season, because pressure will be coming from every direction. The offensive line has only two starters back—both sophomores—and junior Knile Davis, who led all SEC running backs with 1,322 yards rushing in 2010, suffered a season-ending injury to his left ankle during practice last Thursday. Last year the Razorbacks ranked fourth in the country in passing yards per game (333.7) and tied for 90th in rushing attempts (421), an imbalance Davis was supposed to have helped correct.
With Davis in the backfield, Arkansas was a preseason favorite to finish in the top 10. Without him, the Razorbacks' SEC title hopes are most likely finished. But Wilson says he's not discouraged. "If you don't have any dreams or goals, then where do you aim?" he says. "We're going to take [our] expectations and ride them as far as we'll go."
3 Missouri State
10 New Mexico
24 at Alabama
1 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)
22 at Ole Miss
29 at Vanderbilt
5 South Carolina
19 Mississippi State
25 at LSU
With a green offensive line, the 6'7", 317-pound blue-chipper will likely start right away.
The Razorbacks' alltime leading kick returner should also earn a bigger role in the offensive backfield.
Led the team in tackles each of the last three years; of his career-best 100 in 2010, 13 were for loss.
Coach Bobby Petrino (4th year)
2010 Record 10--3 (6--2 in SEC)
Final AP Rank 12
Returning Starters 11
Offense 4, Defense 7
WESLEY HITT/GETTY IMAGES (CHILDS)
Wideout Greg Childs was the Hogs' leading receiver (46 catches, six TDs) when he went down with an injured right knee last fall, and Arkansas hopes he'll be at full strength in 2011.
BOB ROSATO (WILSON)
With just two starters back on the offensive line and the SEC's rushing champ sidelined by a season-ending injury, Wilson's mobility will be put to the test.
JOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES (FRANKLIN)