“Next year” is here 

Still, just because he needs some work doesn't mean he shouldn't have gone. You may have convinced yourself, in your wildest dreams of an SEC championship, that his decision isn't entirely selfless. That he's not ready for the next level. That thinking as much was just more cockiness from that cockiest of Razorbacks. 

But Ryan Mallett just gave up a sure thing for a vague possibility. 

Few in their right mind think he would be anything less than the second QB picked in the draft. NFL teams generally don't need someone who's ready to start in their first year as a pro, despite the anomalous examples of Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford. NFL teams draft for tools. As most Razorback fans know, Mallett is basically the whole dern shed.

Risking the certainty of financial security for the chance to make Razorback history: That's pretty damn selfless. Before the 2009 season was finished, both Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford suffered injuries that damaged their stock. Only Bradford retains much of his Heisman mystique in comparison to other quarterbacks who have declared for the draft. Jimmy Clausen and Jevan Snead, from a physical standpoint, present teams with meaningful alternatives to Bradford and McCoy. From a purely financial perspective, which is by extension a purely personal perspective, Bradford and McCoy's decisions to return for the 2009 season were mistakes.

Mallett will be no better prepared for his professional career after one more season with the Razorbacks than he would be after a season riding the pine under the tutelage of an NFL quarterback's coach. We have some of the best offensive coaches the NCAA has to offer. But money, facilities, experience? The NFL has them all.

No, Mallett didn't make an obvious decision. It couldn't have been an easy choice. He stayed for the fans. He stayed for his teammates. He stayed for the often unrewarding pursuit of a glory unsullied by financial concerns. The Razorback faithful should always remember that. If things don't pan out like we hope, and there's a better chance than we'd like to admit that they won't, it'll be easy to forget.

The hiring of Steve Caldwell has to improve our odds, though. It seems unfair to be making changes on a defense that seemed to be the only thing working for us on Jan. 2, but inconsistency on that end of the ball will lose games for us more often than a sputtering offense. Petrino tried to hire the old hand a while back, a move Caldwell reacted to in a way that didn't earn him much love with Razorback fans, but his track record at Tennessee makes him a steal only a year later, when he's coming on as a mere position coach. I wouldn't expect him to play a traditional second fiddle. Willy Robinson kept his job, but that seat just got hotter.

ESPN ranked us 16th in one of their ridiculously-hot-on-the-heels-of-the-post-season pre-season polls, largely contingent on Mallett's sticking around and improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Well, Mallett's here for one more season. Tramain Thomas gave us something good to think about in the bowl game. And now that the season's finished, Hog fans can engage in all the “next year” talk they want.



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