SEC FOOTBALL SERIES
Camp start: Aug. 4
Opener: Sept. 3 against Missouri State at Reynolds Razorback Stadium (7 p.m. on pay-per-view)
Fun fact: Bobby Petrino is the first coach to take two college programs to their first BCS bowls, leading Louisville to the Orange Bowl in 2006 and Arkansas to the Sugar Bowl last season.
Arkansas junior tailback Knile Davis showed up last Wednesday to Southeastern Conference media days fresh off a personal best in the bench press.
The 6-foot, 226-pounder from Missouri City, Texas, benched a stout 430 pounds last Monday and credited Razorbacks strength coach Jason Veltkamp for the motivation. What did Veltkamp do?
"He put a sign of Alabama in front of me," Davis said.
On an offense headed by Ryan Mallett and his talented receivers, Davis found more than enough running lanes to rack up 1,322 yards a year ago for a team that won 10 games and earned a Sugar Bowl bid. He started just twice in the first seven games but came off the bench against Ole Miss in late October and ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
That ignited a surge of 1,028 rushing yards in the last seven games. The Razorbacks would have won all seven had they not come up short against Ohio State in New Orleans.
"It was to great to add that dimension, and I think it helped us out down the stretch," Davis said. "It was just a cool accomplishment."
The Razorbacks attained unprecedented offensive success last season, as they had a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher concurrently for the first time in program history. Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in each of his two seasons in Fayetteville, but the emergence of Davis was a vast improvement over Broderick Green's team-high 442 yards in 2009.
With Davis, the SEC's top receiving corps and an improving defense back, Arkansas is expected to match or even surpass last season's success, though games against Alabama and LSU are on the road.
"I really feel like we're a fast football team," fourth-year coach Bobby Petrino said. "The speed we have at our skilled positions, particularly at wide receiver and running back, gives us an opportunity to be a special offense. Defensively, our speed on the edges at defensive end and linebacker and in the secondary is where it needs to be."
Davis and receivers such as Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams would provide cause for excitement anywhere, but the Razorbacks are not without questions. They lost two three-year starting tackles and may have a new starting pair, Brey Cook and Jason Peacock, who weren't in the program last year.
Cook was the state's top prospect and the No. 12 tackle nationally according to Rivals.com, while Peacock played the past two seasons at Citrus College in California. Each enrolled in January and went through spring practice.
The more high-profiled transition will be from Mallett, a third-round pick of New England, to Tyler Wilson, who threw for 332 yards in a 65-43 loss at Auburn after Mallett sustained a concussion. Wilson, a 6-3, 220-pound redshirt junior, appeared in six games last season.
"I wouldn't say there's too much difference," Wright said. "Both of them have great arm strength and great velocity with their throws, and both can make pretty much any throw on the field."
Of course, Wilson will have a much more proven tailback than when Mallett took over two years ago.
Davis admits he loves stealing traits from other tailbacks. He admires the great first cut possessed by former Alabama tailback Mark Ingram, and he is trying to improve on getting to the corner and speeding down the sideline, something nobody seemed to do better than former Hog Darren McFadden.
No matter what Davis emulates, it is definitely working.
"He can run with power and with speed, and he has very, very good vision," Petrino said. "He just turned 19 last October, so he's still a youngster, but he's a great young man and a great football player."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...