FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. --- Now is as good a time as any for Arkansas to reshape its offense.
The team Bobby Petrino will inherit next season could look significantly different from the group that's won 18 games over the past two years.
"We're losing some key players," junior center Jonathan Luigs said Wednesday, a day after Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons to become the Razorbacks' coach. "We've got a lot of good seniors here, and maybe some underclassmen that may come out, so there will be some new faces on the field out there next year, from the staff on down to the players. It's going to be different around here."
Petrino met with Arkansas players after practice Wednesday, and although he won't coach the 25th-ranked Razorbacks (8-4) in the Cotton Bowl, the Hogs are already looking ahead to his tenure. What's unclear is which players he'll be coaching. Junior tailback Darren McFadden, for example, seems a good bet to turn pro after finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting two consecutive years.
Felix Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher for the second consecutive season, might also forgo his senior year.
Petrino left the Falcons after only 13 games. Before going to Atlanta in January, he went 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville.
His hiring ended Arkansas' two-week search to replace Houston Nutt, who left the Razorbacks and took over at Mississippi. The difference between the two coaches is stark. Nutt built Arkansas into one of the Southeastern Conference's most powerful rushing teams, whereas Petrino has favored a more balanced offense.
Petrino's five-year contract with Arkansas pays him $2.85 million per year and includes a $2.85 million buyout if he leaves to take a college or pro job during the first four years.
It also includes an agreement that Petrino not leave to accept a job with another SEC West school.
"He said he's coming in here to win a national championship, so I figure he's going to be here for a while," sophomore linebacker Freddie Fairchild said.
For now, players and fans aren't looking too far ahead. Arkansas was close to hiring Wake Forest's Jim Grobe last week, and when Grobe stayed with the Demon Deacons, some felt the Razorbacks needed to lower their sights.
When the Razorbacks face No. 7 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, they'll be led by interim coach Reggie Herring. Now they can plan a little further into the future.
"In the back of our heads every day we were wondering who it was going to be. We kept hearing rumors who the hot list might be, who they were talking to, what our future holds," Luigs said. "It's just good to have it over with, and we can move on and prepare for Missouri."