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The Times' college football countdown: No. 13 Arkansas

The Razorbacks have the talent to make a deep run at a national title, but the firing of Coach Bobby Petrino and being behind Alabama and Louisiana State in the SEC West could prove to be roadblocks.

August 17, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Bobby Petrino at a news conference after being released from a hospital after his motorcycle accident.
Bobby Petrino at a news conference after being released from a hospital… (Gareth Patterson / Associated…)

Several notable plot twists have involved motorcycles:"Easy Rider,""The Great Escape," "On Any Sunday" and "Every Which Way But Loose."

The last was a 1978 comedy starring Clint Eastwood and "Clyde," his orangutan sidekick. It spawned the sequel "Any Which Way You Can."

None of those yarns, as far as we know, affected the race for the national title in college football.

An off-season excursion by a "hog" riding a hog, however, may have literally tipped the balance in this year's chase.

Arkansas' road to the Bowl Championship Series title took a wrong turn in April when Coach Bobby Petrino suffered scrapes and bruises in a motorcycle accident that turned scandalous when it was later learned he had a lover on board who was not his wife.

Worse than that, Petrino lobbied to get his paramour a job as the school's on-campus recruiting coordinator.

All of this led, not shockingly, to his dismissal.

Even stranger than fiction, almost, the school this week filled the position once held by Petrino's former mistress with Nick Holt, former assistant coach at USC and Washington.

Holt lost his defensive coordinator job at Washington after the Huskies gave up 67 points to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.

Petrino, one of the game's top play-callers, hoped to lead his team to the Sunshine State: this year's BCS title game in South Florida.

His last play turned out to be a "down and out."

What now?

Arkansas scrambled fast and hired John L. Smith, a former Arkansas assistant who had just left to take the coaching job at Weber State, his alma mater.

Arkansas handed Smith the keys to a luxury car but gave him only a 10-month lease (contract), which was more of a commitment than Smith gave Weber State.

"Doors open in life; doors close in life," Smith said this summer of the unusual circumstances of his hiring.

Arkansas' biggest obstacle to winning its first Southeastern Conference title is being in the Western Division behind Alabama and Louisiana State.

The Razorbacks' only 2011 defeats were by 24 points each to the teams that played for the national title.

Alabama and LSU start this season ranked higher than Arkansas too, though the Razorbacks get to play both schools in Fayetteville.

Arkansas has the talent to make a deep run. It starts at quarterback with Tyler Wilson, a senior who last season passed for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Arkansas lost three NFL draft choices at receiver in Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, but emerging star Cobi Hamilton returns.

The bigger story is the return of star tailback Knile Davis, fully recovered after missing last season because of a broken ankle.

Davis took over at midseason in 2010 and finished with 1,322 yards.

Arkansas knew all along it would have to overcome Alabama and LSU to reach the top but never imagined dealing with the loss of its coach under such bizarre circumstances.

Petrino has embarked on a major reclamation project to repair his life, recently telling ESPN, "I just can't believe I screwed up so bad."

He did, though, so the race goes on without him.

The countdown so far: The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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