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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

The Razorbacks’ Wide Receiver Options

Arkansas may be the third-best team in the SEC West. Arkansas may also be the third-best team in the entire country. That’s life for the Razorbacks, who have come to inhabit the upper crust of the F.B.S. while still lagging behind the two frontrunners in their own division. The hope in Fayetteville is that this changes in 2012: Arkansas may be poised to take a slight step forward as Alabama and L.S.U. take a slight step back. If this scenario comes to pass, all will meet in the middle — but still among the top five teams in the nation — with Arkansas’ home dates with the Crimson Tide and Tigers a potential deciding factor in the West division and B.C.S. hunt.

But the Razorbacks have issues, just as Alabama and L.S.U. have issues. Alabama will need to overhaul its defense and find a steady replacement for Trent Richardson at running back. L.S.U. has its own losses to consider — wide receiver, cornerback and along the offensive line.

Arkansas’ personnel issues lie on the offensive side of the ball, which is surprising. It’s on offense that the Razorbacks seem to have no issues, at least in the big picture: Arkansas moves the ball better than any team in the SEC, and after two slightly sluggish seasons in 2008 and 2009 have fully grasped Bobby Petrino’s very much un-SEC-like philosophy.

Petrino has been blessed throughout his four-year tenure in Fayetteville with a wonderful trio of standout receivers: Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. All this threesome did over their careers was combine for 465 receptions and 56 touchdowns; this sort of production isn’t easily replaced, obviously.

So as Arkansas continues plugging away during spring ball — the team’s third practice takes place today — Petrino and his offensive staff are keeping a close eye on receiver, where only one returning contributor, senior Cobi Hamilton, brings extensive game experience into the coming season.

Pencil Hamilton in for a starting role, and pencil him in for a monster senior campaign. Tyler Wilson will rely heavily on Hamilton throughout the season, as his only proven target, and especially so in the early going. While the Razorbacks open with two easy wins — Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe — Alabama awaits on Sept. 15. Who are the contenders to replace the departed trio’s production?

Cobi Hamilton, senior The receiver corps’ only experienced hand. Hamilton has quietly served his time behind Adams, Wright and Childs, making 66 grabs for 1,172 yards over the last two seasons as a third and fourth option. He’s earned this chance; look for Hamilton to take the reins as Arkansas’ top receiving options.

Julian Horton, junior The only other returning receiver with a career start under his belt. But it’s only one start for Horton, back in 2010, and not a tremendous amount of production: 8 grabs for 85 yards a year ago. Horton held a starting role as Arkansas opened spring ball.

Javontee Herndon, junior The third starter on the pre-spring depth chart. Herndon’s a bit of a puzzle: he earned some snaps during Arkansas’ easy stretch in September, returned to the bench for much of SEC play but came on to make 4 catches for 40 yards in a 44-17 win over Mississippi State in November. Arkansas loves Herndon’s penchant for the big play, but that’s an ability he’s flashed only on the practice field, not in game situations.

Quinta Funderburk, redshirt freshman Funderburk’s an intriguing option for one reason: On a depth chart full of thinner, lankier receivers, his 6’4, 200-pound frame stands out. Will that be enough for him to crack into the rotation? Perhaps, if only in certain packages. But Funderburk will need to work on the little things — route running, simple consistency — before claiming a starting role.

Marquel Wade, sophomore The highest-ranked receiver in Arkansas’ 2011 recruiting class, Wade is Adams’ likely replacement in the return game. If Wade has the sort of explosiveness to make people miss as a returner, why can’t that translate into a prime role in the passing game?

Keante Minor, sophomore Like Wade, Minor entered the spring second on the depth chart; in Minor’s case, he’s right behind Herndon. The spring is key for both sophomores: two-deeps are solidified in August, but these March and April practices are when up-and-coming youngsters need to develop a trust level with their quarterback and coaching staff.

The newcomers Arkansas signed five receivers in February. All five will arrive over the summer, which should increase the level of competition when the Razorbacks return to the practice field in August. Could a true freshmen move into the rotation? If there is ever going to be a chance for a rookie to do so in this offense, it’ll be in 2012.

Chris Gragg, senior Not a receiver, true. But Gragg, Arkansas’ starting tight end, will play as vital a role in the passing game as any receiver on the roster. While tight end was a bit of a concern heading into last fall — the Razorbacks needed to replace all-American D.J. Williams — Gragg stepped into the void nicely, making 41 catches for 518 yards and 2 touchdowns. While the Razorbacks need to fill a two-deep at receiver, tight end is in good hands.

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  1. [...] case you’ve wondered, here’s the list of Tyler Wilson’s potential receiving targets for this season.  No offense, but right now [...]

  2. DMK says:

    I’m not sure Arkansas will be as good as they were last season. My bet is they’ll again lose at least 2 out of 3 to LSU, USC and Bama. It’s been impossible for them to score more than 21 points on Bama, and they’ll have to do that to win. LSU’s defense could be very, very good. Ditto for South Carolina.

    Petrino’s offense seems to me to be a lot like other “high-powered” attacks these days: they are set up to beat all but the best half-dozen defenses in the country and against them they lose. If Arky gets by Bama, USC, LSU, and UGA … well… they won’t, so never mind.

  3. John Doe says:

    Arkansas will NOT lose to South Carolina on the road this year. Why? Because under Petrino the Hogs have beaten the Gamecocks and Spurrier over and over again. Arkansas does not play Georgia but may play them in the SEC Championship game if they make it.

    Arkansas is a great team with a top 5 or top 10 coach in Petrino. That always counts for something in College Football!

  4. Bwolf says:

    I guess you’re forgetting that little ol “Arkie” has beaten UGA, South Carolina, and LSU under Petrino. Actually, “Arkie” has beaten SC the last three years, they’ve beaten LSU twice, and are 1-2 against UGA under Petrino. Nevermind, I guess you don’t actually know what your talking about.

  5. Scotti says:

    Hahaha. I can’t wait to see you guys in Fayetteville when Jacksonville State lays it on the Hogs.

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