After a season on the mend, Davis ready to thrive in Hogs' backfield

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HOOVER, Ala. -- As the words tumbled from Knile Davis' mouth Wednesday, they didn't sound nearly as cocky as they will when you read them in the next paragraph.

"I do feel like I'm the best running back in the SEC," Davis said. "Not being conceited or anything arrogant, I feel like if you ask any other running back, they'll say the same thing. ... I just don't feel like you can ask for a better back. I think I have everything that you need in a running back."

In print, that statement looks awfully arrogant. In person, it seemed less a boast than a statement of fact. My name is Knile. I stand 6-feet and weigh 226 pounds. I am the best running back in the SEC. I ate alligator last month.

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Texas A&M's Christine Michael and the four-headed tailback monster at LSU (Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard) might disagree, but Davis remains resolute. Though he missed the 2011 season because of a broken ankle suffered during preseason practice 11 months ago, Davis expects to surpass the 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns he rushed for during his breakout season in 2010. If all goes according to his plan, he'll run himself to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December and he'll run Arkansas to the BCS title game in January. Davis contends that he has completely recovered from the ankle injury -- his recent 570-pound squat suggests he's correct -- and the Razorbacks' medical staff has cleared him for full contact work when Arkansas begins practice next month.

"I'm 100 percent," Davis said. "I'm ready to go right now."

Davis hated sitting and watching as the Razorbacks went 11-2 last season, but two particular afternoons crushed him. The difference between a great season and a season for the ages were two 24-point losses. "Alabama and LSU," Davis said, referring to the two teams that beat Arkansas and then later faced off for the national title. Watching the Crimson Tide and the Tigers whip his teammates, Davis felt helpless. He wanted so badly to give the Razorbacks the tough inside yards they needed to keep those defenses honest and allow quarterback Tyler Wilson to throw, but Davis could do nothing but watch. "I'm not necessarily the piece to put them over the top, but I feel like we didn't have our whole team on the field against those two guys," Davis said. "I'm not saying that the outcome would have changed, but I'm saying we would have had a better chance."

Despite the offseason firing of coach Bobby Petrino in the aftermath of the college football's most expensive motorcycle joyride, Davis -- who said he received an apology phone call from Petrino last week -- believes the Razorbacks have their best chance to insert themselves into the national title picture. He has heard the criticism of interim coach John L. Smith. He has heard the doubts that offensive coordinator Paul Petrino can't replicate the play-calling magic of his older brother. None of that matters to Davis. "The most important thing is the players in the huddle, the players on the field," Davis said. "If we have each other, we'll be fine."

One of those players, according to Davis, is the best back in the SEC. But is his assessment correct? Based on Davis' evaluation of his own skill set, if Leonardo had drawn football players, Davis would be The Vitruvian Tailback. Hogs quarterback Wilson, who can make a compelling case that he is the best quarterback in the SEC and possibly the nation, supports Davis' claim.

"He adds every dimension that you want," Wilson said. "He's powerful. He can run inside. He can run outside. He's a great pass catcher. Great pass blocker. He understands protections. I'm comfortable with him back there. When I need to change a protection, he's going to be on his toes and can pick a guy up. He's unselfish. He has that little bit of spark when he steps in the huddle -- that charisma."

Razorbacks linebacker Tenarius Wright, a survivor of multiple practice-field collisions with Davis, only bolstered Davis' argument. "He knows how to lower his inside shoulder when you're coming to him so you can't get your head across," Wright said. "He knows how to give you that nice cutback move so you over-pursue. You have to have a straight, tight angle with Knile. You really have to wrap him up."

But will all those skills return now that Davis is playing on a reconstructed ankle? Davis said he talked it over with Smith, and player and coach agreed that the only way to find out is to throw Davis into contact drills when practice begins. "I'm anxious," Davis said. "I've got butterflies a little bit." The man who claims to be the best back in the SEC must overcome any lingering anxiety and begin mauling tacklers again. Davis seems ready, though. After a season on the sideline, Davis plans to prove himself correct.

"My hunger level," he said, "is on starving."