Petrino: Arkansas eyes championship next season
Bobby Petrino made it clear before this season that Southeastern Conference and national championships were the goals at Arkansas.
Nothing has changed for the Razorbacks coach moving forward.
Petrino, speaking Saturday for the first time since a season-ending victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, said Arkansas is poised to build on its first top-five finish since 1977. The Razorbacks finished 11-2, tying the school record for wins, and their only losses were to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU.
''I think certainly that our players and our coaches have very high expectations,'' Petrino said. ''To me, that's great. Like I've said all the time, I embrace high expectations. That's something that drives you, motivates you and gets us to work harder every day.''
Petrino's optimism was fueled last week when quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis both announced they were bypassing the NFL draft and returning next season.
Wilson threw for a school-record 510 yards in a win over Texas A&M this season, and he led the SEC with an average of 279.8 yards passing per game. The season was the junior's first as the starter, and though he was told he could be drafted anywhere from the late first round to third, he never expected to leave before his senior year was done.
''I felt like we had a great team coming back,'' Wilson said. ''It's never been my personality to leave early. I've always believed in completing whatever it was that I was working with.''
Davis' decision was centered around the belief that his ''career wasn't complete.'' Davis led all SEC running backs in rushing with 1,322 yards as a sophomore last season, but he missed the entire season after fracturing his left ankle during preseason practice.
It was the third time Davis had broken an ankle, dating to high school, and the injuries were one of the reasons he considered leaving college early. However, the prospect of being a second- or third-round draft choice wasn't enough to entice Davis to leave for the NFL just yet.
''I never envisioned myself leaving the University of Arkansas like that,'' Davis said. ''I wanted to leave on a high note.''
Arkansas has improved its win total in each of four seasons under Petrino. The Razorbacks won five games his first season in 2008, eight in 2009 and 10 in 2010.
Petrino said it would take ''two more wins'' to join the national championship discussion, and he believes Wilson and Davis will help the Razorbacks make that leap next season. Arkansas must first overcome the loss of middle linebacker Jerry Franklin, who led the team in tackles for four seasons, as well as a talented group of record-setting receivers - including Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams.
''We hope we can reload,'' Petrino said. ''That's what it's all about.''
Arkansas returned all of its assistant coaches last season, but it's faced with an offseason overhaul this year. All three coordinators (Garrick McGee, Willy Robinson and John L. Smith) left or resigned, and linebackers coach Reggie Johnson followed McGee to Alabama-Birmingham.
Petrino replaced the coaches with a touch of the familiar in former Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino as well as some new - bringing in Paul Haynes from Ohio State as defensive coordinator. Another former Ohio State assistant, Taver Johnson, was hired to coach linebackers, and Kevin Peoples was moved from an administrative role to defensive tackles coach.
Bobby Petrino said the new coaches provide an opportunity to reteach and relearn the offense, while he expects Haynes to change the defensive scheme.
''It's an exciting time for you,'' Petrino said.