LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Bobby Petrino had every opportunity to temper Arkansas’ preseason hopes.
Instead the Razorbacks coach, speaking before a golf tournament Monday, had almost a defiant tone as he fed rising expectations with fall practices set to begin in less than three weeks.
Arkansas had 14 players selected to the coaches’ All-Southeastern Conference preseason teams last week, the most of any conference team. That news followed what has been a steady stream of players picked for a host of preseason award watch lists, all following the school’s first BCS appearance against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl last season.
The excitement about the upcoming season has risen to a fever pitch within the state’s borders despite the departure of three graduated offensive linemen, including both starting tackles. The team also will be without tackle Anthony Oden, whom Petrino dismissed from the team last week after his second arrest in a year.
Oden, younger brother of Portland’s Greg Oden, was listed as a possible first-team tackle on the Razorbacks’ spring depth chart. He was charged with driving while intoxicated for the second time in the last year and also faces charges for possession of a controlled substance.
Petrino said Monday that the latest arrest left him no choice but to dismiss Oden, though he admitted it was a difficult decision.
“That’s one thing you never like to do as a coach,” Petrino said. “I always believe in second chances, some guys third chances. We just got to a situation where there were no more chances. It’s hard on everybody. I tell the players all the time is ‘One lose, we all lose.’
“So we all took a hit on that. We wish him well and hope he has success wherever he ends up going, but we really had to move on and go in a different direction.”
Oden’s departure raises questions about Arkansas’ ability to block for an offense that otherwise appears primed to build on the 36.5 points per game it averaged last season. It also follows the unexpected transfer of another lineman, Seth Oxner, during the offseason.
Just don’t tell Petrino that the departures up front could lead to lower expectations.
“Absolutely not,” Petrino said. “We’re not tempering our expectations at all. Before it’s over with, we’ll be a very good offensive front. We’re bigger, more athletic and very youthful.
“Youth is not that bad.”
The Razorbacks appear to have plenty of returning talent surrounding the offensive line, with four receivers named to preseason award watch lists and Knile Davis returning after leading the SEC’s running backs in rushing last season. It’s a line that likely could see significant time from freshman Brey Cook, who graduated high school early and went through spring practice.
Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis seconded Petrino’s stance on Arkansas’ preseason hopes, saying “nobody rises to low expectations.” He also doesn’t expect the line to feel any added pressure to perform with so much returning offensive talent around it.
“We’re going to go out and do our job,” Klenakis said. “Our expectation level and performance level and what we demand is at (a high) level and we’re going to get there.”
The line will have to jell quickly. After three nonconference home games, the Razorbacks travel to Alabama on Sept. 24 and follow that with Texas A&M in Dallas.
They’ll face the early tests with a new quarterback under center after Ryan Mallett left early for the NFL. Junior Tyler Wilson is expected to win the starting job after performing well in Mallett’s absence last season. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee expects both line and quarterback to blend and perform well together.
“I think we have the people in place to get it done,” McGee said. “Every year there’s going to be change in college football. The seniors leave and new guys come in,, but our program is at a point where the expectations don’t change.
“We feel good about where we are.”