Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett

The Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas' immediate future is clear. The Razorbacks, led by quarterback Ryan Mallett, will take part in their first BCS bowl game when they face Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.

Things aren't quite as clear after that for Arkansas, which must consider the possibility that Mallett will leave for the NFL. The Razorbacks taking a close look at possible successors during their practices leading up to the bowl game.

Mallett wasn't available to the media Friday, but he's been dancing around questions about his future after considering the draft last season, only to return for his junior year.

Mallet led the top passing offense in the Southeastern Conference this season, throwing for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns -- breaking the school's career record for touchdowns in just two seasons. He spent his freshman season at Michigan before transferring and redshirting. "He delivered what we expected and more,'' Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said. "He's just a phenomenal athlete, and I expect great things from him in the future.''

Sophomore Tyler Wilson and freshman Brandon Mitchell are among the candidates to replace Mallett should he leave. Arkansas returned to the practice field this week in preparation for the Buckeyes, and spent part of that practice time taking a closer look at its younger players. Mitchell stood out during spring practice, but it was Wilson who was thrown into action this season, when Mallett went down with a concussion during the first half at Auburn.

"This is a great time for them,'' Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said about bowl practices. "Tyler's been getting a whole bunch of reps. His confidence is as high as it's ever been. He really understands what we're doing.''

Wilson played sparingly last season as the Razorbacks' backup but had a career day at Auburn. Arkansas faltered in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Tigers, but Wilson threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns in three quarters of action.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel noticed the game while watching film of the Razorbacks and used it as an example of Arkansas' depth on offense. "That's the standard of which they expect of one another,'' Tressel said.

Wilson said the performance made him feel like more of a part of the team; he attempted only 36 passes in five games a year ago. He also noticed a boost in his teammates' confidence in him, something he hopes to carry over for the rest of the bowl practices and into the spring.

Whether that comes as a backup or competition for the starting job is yet to be determined. "Ryan's a great player,'' Wilson said. "He's going to have the opportunity to go do things after this and be special at it. ... Hopefully everything goes smooth and he's able to accomplish the things he'd like to accomplish. That includes this bowl game, which is big for him. He's got a chance to raise his stock even higher.''

Wilson was recruited by Petrino after a standout prep career in Arkansas, during which he threw for more than 8,000 yards and 93 touchdowns.

In no way is he pushing Mallett out the door, but he's also ready to see the field. "Obviously, you want him to go do what's best for him and to achieve the things he wants to achieve,'' Wilson said. "But definitely as a player, you're wanting your time to come soon.''