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Chris Dufresne's preseason college football top 25: No. 17 Arkansas

The Razorbacks should be explosive on offense behind quarterback Ryan Mallett, who threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. Arkansas is a team to watch in the SEC West.

August 16, 2010|Chris Dufresne

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 17 Arkansas

Every year it seems the pundits anoint a sleeper from the West Wing of the Southeastern Conference to challenge kingpins Alabama/Louisiana State/ Auburn and possibly make an end-around run to the national title.

Last year it was Mississippi, equipped with hot-shot quarterback Jevan Snead and the schedule break of getting Alabama at home.

Ole Miss, led by the old Arkansas coach, Houston Nutt, started the season No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and No. 10 in the USA Today coaches' poll.

It didn't quite work out as planned, as Mississippi had already dropped a tough road game at South Carolina before Alabama came to Oxford and left with a 22-3 win.

Ole Miss finished 4-4 in the SEC, 9-4 overall after a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. The Rebels ended up No. 20 and 21 in the two major polls.

Not bad, but not a coronation, either.

Arkansas in 2010 looks a lot like Ole Miss of 2009.

Word guys are going Pig Wild over a Razorbacks team that should be explosive on offense with Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Mallett, a 6-foot-6 junior transfer from Michigan, threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is one of nine returning players on offense and has fully recovered from a broken foot suffered in an off-season conditioning drill.

Mallett is being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate and is the cover boy for Arkansas' media guide. It helps that the Razorbacks return their top five receivers, who accounted for 30 of the team's 32 receiving touchdowns.

"We're embracing all the expectations," Mallett said at recent SEC media days.

The problem, as always, is doing business in the SEC West, which has produced three national champions since 2003 and an undefeated Auburn squad in 2004 that didn't win.

Ole Miss found out the hard way last year, with all four of its losses coming to SEC opponents, three from the West.

Arkansas' schedule sets up as favorably as a schedule can in the SEC. Beware, though, those early so-called tomato-can games against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.

Mallett is particularly mindful of the Sept. 4 home opener against a 1-AA school, having been a witness to Appalachian State's epic 2007 upset against Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"I was part of that team," Mallett said. "I kind of learned my lesson from that as far as overlooking people."

Assuming Arkansas makes it to 2-0, the Hogs then face the season's key couplet with a trip to Georgia on Sept. 18 followed by a home visit by Alabama.

Most schools would want a bye before Alabama, but Arkansas gets its week off after the Tide rolls in.

"We messed that up, didn't we," Coach Bobby Petrino joked.

Arkansas should be a solid, but you almost have to pencil in three losses for the Razorbacks if only for the company they keep.

Time will tell, though, whether this team is for real or a pig-in-a-poke.

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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