FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -Houston Nutt was off to Ole Miss. Mitch Mustain and Gus Malzahn had been gone nearly a year.
The soap opera that was Arkansas football in 2007 had one moment of drama remaining.
In December, the Razorbacks hired Bobby Petrino, 41-9 in four years as a college coach. That helped Arkansas put the tumult of last season in the past and created an intriguing story line for 2008.
Sure, this figures to be a rebuilding season after the loss of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, but Petrino's arrival makes the Razorbacks relevant no matter who is on the field. Maybe Arkansas will surprise and stay competitive with the Southeastern Conference's top teams - or maybe the Hogs will falter and miss the postseason entirely. Either scenario would be newsworthy.
Petrino received a hero's welcome when he came to Arkansas, but he was vilified elsewhere because he left the Atlanta Falcons and the Michael Vick nightmare without telling his players face-to-face. No matter what Arkansas does this year, Petrino will be the center of attention.
That's partly because the big names on the field last year are gone. McFadden, the Heisman Trophy runner-up the past two years, is in the NFL. So are fellow running backs Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis.
Linebacker Freddie Fairchild was kicked off the team in June, three months after his arrest on misdemeanor charges of battery and false imprisonment. He was one of six Razorbacks to get in trouble with the law this year.
``We've talked about ... how to conduct ourselves socially, and we continue to work hard towards that,'' Petrino said. ``Certainly, our players have an understanding that the incidents that happened this summer we are not proud of and it is not going to continue.''
Who is left? Well, quarterback Casey Dick is a senior. Running back Michael Smith has shown flashes of potential behind McFadden and Jones, and now he'll have a chance to be the featured back. Tight end D.J. Williams was impressive last year as a freshman.
``I'm excited about our running backs. There's going to be some young speed - guys who work hard,'' Petrino said at a recent news conference.
guys that we have.''
``I would much rather come into a new situation where we have experience on the offensive front and experience on the defensive front and have ... inexperience at the skill positions, because we know the offensive line and the defensive line really control the game,'' he said. ``They give the quarterback an opportunity to have some time and space to throw the ball.''
Arkansas went 8-5 last season. The highlight was a triple-overtime win over LSU in late November - Nutt's last game as Razorbacks coach. Nutt was under fire all year after Mustain, a highly touted quarterback, left the program. Mustain's departure immediately followed that of Gus Malzahn, a popular offensive coordinator.
Nutt resigned after the regular season, enabling both the coach and the program to turn the page. Of course, although Nutt is gone, he won't be forgotten. Ole Miss visits Arkansas on Oct. 25.
``The place will be rockin'. Bring your popcorn,'' Robinson said.
A week later, Malzahn comes to town as an offensive assistant at Tulsa.
The schedule also includes trips to Texas and Auburn, and home games against Alabama, Florida and LSU.
Petrino will have a honeymoon period, but it could be a painful one if Arkansas can't figure out a way to replace its departed stars.
---
Associated Press Writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report from Fayetteville, Ark.

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