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The semi-rhetorical question edition 

Before Pearls devotes itself completely to 2012 football season preview mode, this week we assess, through a series of yet unanswerable queries, whether these Hogs can survive a turbulent off-season and excel this fall.

• What kind of legacy will Tyler Wilson leave? He owns one of the best all-around seasons of quarterbacking ever at Fayetteville, has demonstrated maturity so advanced that even the head coach's abrupt dismissal hasn't caused nearly the level of alarm expected, and owns the single-game records for pass completions and yardage. But because 2011 represented his first year as a starter, Wilson does not find himself situated highly on career statistical ledgers, and his opening act was not totally above reproach. At times during his career, ball security has been an issue and occasionally that has been a function of not releasing quickly enough under duress. He was blessed with an incredible receiving corps last year and will have to develop a rhythm with mostly green targets this year. And speaking of that...

• Who provides Cobi Hamilton support on the outside? We know now that it will not be the troubled Marquel Wade, nor will Quinta Funderburk or Maudrecus Humphrey have anything to say about it. Neither Javontee Herndon nor Julian Horton has caught a touchdown pass since arriving, and Keante Minor got no real reps last year. This columnist's money is on Owasso, Okla. product Keon Hatcher to become a standout as a true freshman. This position has been an embarrassment of riches for three years running, so the sudden paucity of proven depth there is an issue that demands immediate correction, especially since Hamilton has never been the primary target in his own right.

• Will Darius Winston finally live up to his otherworldly potential, or will he be an afterthought by midseason? The Camden Fairview product has been maddeningly erratic, rarely showing the kind of ball skills that made him a top-shelf cornerback recruit in 2008. He has always had the build and the quickness to excel, but seemingly lost confidence when the learning curve for being an SEC shutdown corner proved high. If Winston channels the setbacks of his first three years into something positive, he and Tevin Mitchel could be a formidable pair in the secondary, especially with the underrated Eric Bennett still manning safety.

• Can Alonzo Highsmith be an All-American? The transfer shined last season after he worked his way into the starting middle linebacker role before the 2011 season began. He was the impact player that the Hogs have missed there for years, consistently involving himself in plays behind the line (12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks) and displaying a great sense of timing for big plays, his touchdown return on a fumble against LSU being the most dramatic example. By the time he had finished terrorizing Collin Klein at the Cotton Bowl, Highsmith seemed to be asserting that he was ready to emerge as the Hogs' defensive anchor for his senior campaign. As is often said in the summer of many players, Highsmith looks the part and has designs on parlaying his last year in Fayetteville into the kind of sustained NFL career his father had.

• Who on Earth takes Joe Adams' place? Spoiled to having the nation's most electric punt returner and "gadget" player, Arkansas faces a serious special teams concern this fall with Adams now a Carolina Panther. Wade was the natural successor; beyond that, it seems like the best fit might be one of the true freshmen (i.e., Defonta Lowe, Will Hines) instead of an experienced skill player who would be at risk.

• Is John L. Smith a Larry Coker for the modern age? Coker inherited Butch Davis' revamp at Miami and promptly won a national championship (should have been two) to begin his head coaching career. Smith has returned to Fayetteville with ample head coaching chops, the same genial nature that made Coker a great short-term breath of fresh air in a cutthroat business, and no real desire to get in the way of his assistants. Coker was never regarded as a Saban-level guru, but rather as a pleasant and decent man who had great fortune and timing. Smith professes that he wants to retain the crown beyond his eight-month contract, and I suspect he would be perfectly content to have a reputation like that of Coker if he could have the jewelry that accompanied it.

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Speaking of...

  • Former Hog coach John Smith under scrutiny for contract in bankruptcy court

    February 13, 2013
    USA Today reports: Former Arkansas football coach John L. Smith has been accused of using his employment contracts with the Razorbacks to defraud several of his creditors, according to two complaints filed this week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. /more/
  • A new era for Razorbacks

    February 6, 2013
    You do not have to be steeped in wizardry or any kind of advanced science to understand that Arkansas football is being purified from the roots up. /more/
  • Jeff Long: 2012 Arkansan of the year

    January 16, 2013
    It's difficult to fathom an occasion where any other agent of Razorback culture was so frequently cussed or discussed. /more/
  • Other Arkies of the Year

    January 16, 2013
    They also stood out. /more/
  • The craziest year in Razorback history

    December 26, 2012
    In prior editions of Pearls, I have freely disclosed being a bit of a "newbie", a child of the 1980s who nonetheless has devoted generous portions of his life to studying the overall history of Arkansas Razorback athletics. Therefore, at the risk of offending those whose memories may be longer than my own, I still think I'm qualified to say that 2012 was the most oddball, bass-ackwards mess of a year for that institution since the leather helmet/peach basket era. /more/
  • The midday round-up

    December 3, 2012
    Tyler Wilson signs with a high-powered agent. The Ark. Legislative Black Caucus names a leader. State Repubs. name their leaders. And a former Hendrix student continues to get pub for encouraging young people to NOT go to college. /more/
  • Play Brandon Allen

    November 14, 2012
    The distinction between these Razorback footballers and those from a season ago isn't as disparate as the records (9-1 through 10 games last year, 4-6 this time) might indicate. /more/
  • Bright spots: Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson

    November 7, 2012
    No sense wasting more valuable column inches this week on the grotesquerie that was Arkansas's homecoming game against Tulsa, which the Hogs somehow failed to lose. This plodding, 4-5 team isn't going to play a 13th game this season, and if it does, rejoicing will hardly be warranted anyway. /more/
  • Razorbacks Midseason review

    October 24, 2012
    We've nudged a bit past the true midpoint of 2012, but on the heels of an idle weekend and with a slate of still-meaningful games ahead, Pearls looks back, then looks forward in its quasi-traditional and moderately derisive midseason review. /more/
  • Bad time for a bye week for Hogs

    October 17, 2012
    Leave it to the talented, tormented Razorbacks of 2012 to play their most complete game of the entire season to date in a game that was incomplete. /more/
  • More »

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