January 06, 2011
See a complete list of underclassmen who have declared for the draft.
When Ryan Mallett committed to Michigan as the most celebrated arm in the 2007 recruiting class, he was moving a thousand miles to play in arguably the best offense in the country for developing big, plodding human artillery pieces for the next level. But the perfect fit, as it turned out, was waiting back home: Mallett and coach Bobby Petrino arrived at Arkansas in 2008 as touted refugees looking to regain their footing after a turbulent year (or almost a year, in Petrino's case) in unfamiliar territory, and Mallett will leave for the NFL draft as the best college passer ever to come out of his home state.
He wasn't only the SEC's most frequent and prolific passer, easily leading the league in yards, yards per game, touchdowns and big plays for the second year in a row, but also one of the most efficient, joining Cam Newton and Greg McElroy as one of only seven passers in the country with a passer rating above 160 – a good 10 points higher than he'd delivered as a redshirt sophomore. He threw for at least one touchdown in every game, and for at least three touchdowns in eight of them. He pulverized the school records for yards and touchdowns in a career, and stands as the only Arkansas quarterback ever to throw for 400 yards or five touchdowns in a single game, achieving each on four separate occasions.
More importantly, he made the Razorbacks relevant again nationally, and within the most stacked division in the country. With their 31-23 win over LSU in November, the Hogs joined the 2006 division champs as the only Arkansas outfit since joining the SEC in 1992 with 10 wins, and the first to take up residence in the top 10 as the calendar turns to December. That was mostly thanks to a six-game winning streak, where the victories came by an average of 20 points per game, including a 41-20 trouncing of East Division champ South Carolina in Columbia. Razorback players have also gone on the road to beat upstart Mississippi State in Starkville, after dispatching Georgia in Athens and Texas A&M in Dallas earlier in the year.
They're going to start and finish in the polls for the first time since 1999, and spend the entire season there without dropping out – only once even falling outside of the top 20, immediately following a loss to Auburn in which Mallett was knocked out in the first half – for the first time since '89, their last Southwest Conference championship. Mallett made Arkansas better than it's ever been in the SEC era, and if not for the ill-timed concussion on the Plains and a pair of upset-killing interceptions in the fourth quarter against Alabama, it might have set the bar out of reach entirely.
As it stands, Mallett's pro potential is up for some debate, despite his A-plus size and arm strength, but with Andrew Luck's decision to return to Stanford and at least half a dozen teams in need of a quarterback in the top half of the first round, Mallett seems destined to go in the dozen overall picks or so – the first Arkansas QB to go in the draft as a QB since Mike Kirkland and Scott Bull in 1976, and the first to go in the first round since Lamar McHan in 1954. Even if he slips, a la hyped 2007 classmate Jimmy Clausen last year, at least no one there will ever ask him to adjust to the spread option.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.