In the days immediately following last season, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett found plenty of reasons to delay entering the NFL draft.
Mallett promised his mother that he would graduate, and he now is just 15 hours away from that accomplishment. The 6-foot-7, 238-pounder from Texarkana felt he owed it to his state, which welcomed him back after he signed and played the 2007 season at Michigan.
And then there was the excitement of the road ahead.
"When you look at the guys we've got coming back," Mallett recalled last week, "how would you not want to play on a team that has a chance to be great?"
Mallett set or tied 16 school records during his first year as a starter in the Southeastern Conference, and he led the league in touchdown passes (30), passing yards per game (278.8) and total offense (276.5). He is the only returning quarterback from a BCS conference who finished in the top 10 nationally in pass efficiency in '09, and his 152.5 rating was the third-highest in SEC history.
Tabbed by The Sporting News as the favorite to win the Davey O'Brien Award, Mallett is scheduled to speak Thursday morning at the annual SEC media days event that begins this afternoon. He was named Tuesday as the coaches' preseason All-SEC first-team quarterback.
"It's a fun experience, and it's great to be named to those kinds of things, but my main focus is helping this team win ballgames," he said. "I'm the quarterback for the Hogs. That's what is on my mind."
Arkansas capped an 8-5 year with a shaky defeat of East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl, but the Razorbacks were close to a 10-win season. They gave Florida its toughest test of the regular season before falling 23-20 at the Swamp, and their regular-season finale was a 33-30 overtime loss at LSU.
The Razorbacks are entering their 19th season as an SEC member and still are seeking their first league championship, having made three trips to the title game only to lose each by double digits.
"It would mean everything, especially to this team and this program," Mallett said of a league crown. "A lot of people the last couple of years and probably back to '64 have considered us underdogs, even in the state, and we're trying to change that, because we don't feel that way at all."
SEC MEDIA DAYS SCHEDULE
Today: Alabama, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Florida
Thursday: Georgia, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina
Friday: Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss
Mallett sustained a broken bone in his left foot during conditioning drills on Feb. 17. He underwent a procedure June 9 to replace a screw in the foot but expects to be ready when camp starts.
The redshirt junior is participating in pass-skeleton drills, but his main exercise this summer has been swimming and running in the pool.
"I've gained a whole new respect for swimmers," he said. "I'm used to kicking around in the pool."
Though he threw for 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season, Mallett had too many misfires on short routes and completed just 56 percent of his passes. Many of those misses occurred on third down, as the Razorbacks ranked 104th nationally in conversions at 33.3 percent.
Mallett wants to amend that this season and returns his top two receivers, juniors Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, as well as senior tight end D.J. Williams. The defender he was most impressed by a year ago - Alabama middle linebacker Rolando McClain - is now in the NFL.
"When you look at our roster and go back and watch the film, we didn't lose very many players on offense, especially," Mallett said, "and we've got a lot of guys coming back on defense. Having a lot of guys coming back on a team that went 8-5 just makes everything exciting."