More Fans Should Be Thankful For Nutt

FAYETTEVILLE -While sitting around that big ol' family table piled with roasted bird parts, freshly mashed potatoes, boats of brown gravy, cornbread stuffing, those yam thingies, green bean casserole topped with bacon and brown sugar and homemade mac and cheese, something to gnaw on:

Arkansas fans should be thankful for football coach Houston Nutt.

It amazes us, though, how many turkeys are not.

Before Nutt's arrival in 1998, the Razorbacks were starving for success. Any sort of it.

After joining the Southeastern Conference, moving from the pattsy-filled Southwest Conference schedule in time for the 1991 season, Arkansas won just 29 games before Nutt.

In Nutt's first six seasons, he won 48 games.

This season, despite being handicapped by those NCAA troubles (absolutely no fault of his own) that left him with a short and somewhat suspect roster, Nutt has guided the Hogs to a 5-5 record.

Many, if not most, of you did not think that possible.

With a win against No. 14 LSU on Friday in his hometown of Little Rock (where he's undefeated), Nutt can become the first Arkansas coach in the Hogs' 110-year history to take his team to seven consecutive bowl games.

And the Hogs haven't been nearly as bad as in the past once they get there. Despite often fielding the underHog, Nutt is 2-4 in bowl games, and the 27-6 win against No. 14 Texas in the 2000 Cotton Bowl was Arkansas' first postseason win since 1985.

Unlike his recent predecessors, Nutt has kept the vast majority of those precious few serious in-state Division I prospects home.

Check this out: Nutt's 54-30 record is the best among SEC Western Division programs. At 53-32, LSU is second.

What program in the entire SEC has the most home wins since 1998?

Nutt's (37). With 36, Tennessee is second.

Most bowl appearances during Nutt's tenure?

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, all with six.

Not bad company.

And you may have noticed Auburn (four), LSU (four) and Alabama (three) weren't invited.

Nutt's a homegrown athlete and passionate as can be. His teams play with aggressive fire.

But don't take our word for it.

"I think their team plays extremely hard and competes really well," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "I think that's kind of a trademark that you see with coach Houston Nutt's teams and how they go about doing things."

Somehow, though, there still are grumblings in these parts despite the expectations (the realistic ones around the SEC, not the unrealistic ones often heard around here) that Nutt always seems to surpass.

Nebraska recognized the dandy job Nutt has done, and the Cornhuskers tried darned hard to peel him away about this time last year.

Andy Staples, the Gators beat writer for the Tampa Tribune, put together a list of likely candidates for replacement when Ron Zook got the hook at Florida.

Among the six names ... Nutt.

Far as that sort of speculation goes, Nutt doesn't want to go there.

But it's interesting to see, and hear, the high regard for him around not only the conference, but also the country.

After Arkansas countered Nebraska's offer -yep, offer - Nutt got a contract extension and a well-earned raise. He also got a free pass for this season that many thought might yield just three, maybe four, wins.

Instead, Nutt has his Hogs poised to rock Little Rock during Friday's matchup against LSU, which, by the way, will be yet another Arkansas game on national TV.

You may not love his calls, but those paid to select such things see Nutt's program as must-see TV.

This season, Nutt has turned aloof senior quarterback Matt Jones into a team player. And last week, the SEC's all-time leading rushing quarterback was turned into a pocket passer while horribly hobbled during the 24-21 win at Mississippi State.

With just a handful of seniors, a brand-new offensive line and a defense greener than a cucumber sandwich (which is why any speculation of D-coordinator Dave Wommack's demise is foolish), Nutt has the Hogs on the verge of another postseason breakthrough.

And, unlike most programs, not a single one of Nutt's players has been in any sort of trouble during this run.

Even before their 27-24 win against Ole Miss last week, the Tigers began studying this showdown with the Hogs, a team Saban clearly sees as unique.


"It's the most difficult preparation we've had all year," said Saban, who also remarked that his team must play its best game of the year to survive Arkansas.

You should be eating this up.

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