When the University of Arkansas hired Bobby Petrino in the wake of Houston Nutt's tumultuous departure, it's doubtful that either Hog fans or the AD themselves knew exactly what they were getting. Here's a coach who inherited a solid-if-unspectacular Louisville program from John L. Smith in the wake of the latter's departure to Michigan State, and turned the Cardinals from an upper-tier C-USA team to a BCS bowl winning Big East outfit in a matter of years. But here also was the coach who had bailed on his first shot at the big time, failing to complete a full season as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, to take the job in Fayetteville. How did he inform the players who had toiled under him for 13 games in Atlanta? With no more than a note in the locker room.
It was under such mixed auspices that Petrino inherited a program whose greatest recent success had been an upset over title-bound LSU just a year prior. But Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were both gone, leaving perpetually overmatched Casey Dick - and occasionally, younger brother Nathan - as the showrunner(s) in one of the most complex, pro-style offenses in the entire country. Predictably, Petrino's first season did not go well: the Hogs finished 5-7, 2nd in the conference in passing offense but 10th in rushing and dead last in total defense.
In 2009, that was all supposed to change. Gone were the Dicks (last time, I promise), and arriving was Ryan Mallett, a lead-footed, howitzer-armed pocket passer; a disgruntled transfer from Michigan's new experiment with the spread-option offense. Mallett was a perfect fit for the system, tossing 30 touchdowns to just 7 picks in his first year as a starter. Despite that success, the Hogs still finished with a meager 8 wins. Yet again, the lack of a consistent running game and anything resembling a defense had submarined Arkansas' hopes of competing for an SEC title: the Hogs finished 10th in the SEC in rushing offense again, and dead last in total defense. Again.
Petrino and the team had experienced some success, but 2010 needed to be a big leap forward for the entire program to instill confidence in its stability among fans and to remove the doubt clogging many outsiders' minds.