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Bright spots: Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson


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No sense wasting more valuable column inches this week on the grotesquerie that was Arkansas's homecoming game against Tulsa, which the Hogs somehow failed to lose. This plodding, 4-5 team isn't going to play a 13th game this season, and if it does, rejoicing will hardly be warranted anyway.

Pearls has been hard enough on John L. Smith and Co. These temps weren't sticking around, and the Carroll College Castaways will be eagerly awaiting a phone call from Bobby Petrino this winter, as the erstwhile head Hog looks to rebuild a tattered career in parts to be determined. Nobody's necessarily asking, but my genuine feeling is that if Petrino leads an FBS program this fall, it will not be one of the three likely SEC openings, but rather a stop in Boulder, Colorado.

On to the important stuff: Arkansas's famously poor 2012 season will not be remembered well by most, but even in a ragged four-point win against the Golden Hurricane two of the Hogs' stalwarts proved again why they deserve not only unfettered adulation, but NFL riches ahead.

Cobi Hamilton caught another passel of balls Saturday morning, winning the Crip Hall Award with an 11-catch, 177-yard show. With a full three games remaining, Hamilton already has usurped Jarius Wright's year-old single-season receptions record, will soon overtake Wright for the one-year yardage crown and still has a sporting chance of passing Wright's career yardage standard. The prevailing belief at the start of this season was that Hamilton's professional aspirations hinged on whether he could carry the weight of being Tyler Wilson's chief target instead of a third or fourth option.

The senior from Texarkana, Texas, has met that challenge with gusto even as the younger supporting players have lacked cohesion with Wilson. Hamilton has registered at least seven receptions in each of the last six games, no small feat when you consider the amount of defensive attention he gets. He has been nothing short of dependable, though in a bit of irony, his touchdown output (only four, three of which came in the loss to Rutgers) is a microcosm of the Hogs' offensive headaches all year: few issues moving the football between the 20s, as they say, and enormous red zone troubles to follow. Against Tulsa, he had consecutive receptions of 41 and 14 yards to put the Hogs near the goal line, where Dennis Johnson punched in the pivotal nail.

And that brings us to Johnson, who has had a mercurial but undeniably productive five years on the field. When he arrived in 2008 from the Arkansas side of Texarkana, it barely moved the needle as far as piquing the excitement of Hogs' fans. All believed DeAnthony Curtis was the prize of that class, but Johnson just kept his stocky legs churning even when injuries (HE LACERATED HIS BOWEL, PEOPLE! GOOD GOD!) and occasional fumbling troubles threatened to derail him.

Because the likes of Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis have gobbled up carries here and there, Johnson will end his career never truly having the "feature back" identity until his waning days on campus — he's just nudged past 300 carries over his tenure, which some college players will log in a single campaign. Johnson has averaged about six yards per carry over his career, though, making an enviable highlight film shedding, stiff-arming, dodging and dragging opposing linebackers and defensive backs. He's saving his premium work for the very end: with 109 yards and two touchdowns against the Golden Hurricane, he cemented his standing as a capable bellcow for what will be a rough final month of the year. Even with the new, inexplicable kickoff rule implemented, Johnson remains the conference's all-time leading kick returner and he'll crack the coveted 5,000-yard all-purpose mark with a few touches against the Gamecocks (and realistically, he's going to get more than a handful).

How the Hogs fare against South Carolina on Saturday morning is pure guesswork. The Gamecocks had lofty dreams, took an achingly difficult loss at Baton Rouge, then got pounded at Florida to remove themselves from the East division championship calculus. Injury followed that insult when Marcus Lattimore sustained one of the most garish knee-jobs we've had the misfortune of witnessing in a few years. They've still got designs on reaching 10 wins and finding a backdoor to the BCS, and after three years of stinging, decisive losses to the Hogs they are primed to take advantage of this newfound disparity between the teams.

Steve Spurrier, though, is hell on his own quarterbacks, and Connor Shaw has spent much of this year in physical distress as well, a plight to which Wilson can certainly relate. Hamilton and Johnson have emerged as the torchbearers for this wounded team, and if they produce according to custom, it could reshape the narrative of the Hogs' lost season and further boost their earnings potential come April.


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