Arkansas Making Postseason Plans

HOOVER, Ala. -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said the number is amazing.

Nutt, who made his eighth appearance at Southeastern Conference Football Media Days on Friday, did a double take when he was recently told that 24 coaching changes have occurred in the league since he was hired in December of 1997.

In reality, the number is a little closer to 20. But Nutt, who is the second-longest tenured coach in the SEC behind Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer (14 years), was surprised to learn the unbelievable statistic.

"That's the way of the world," Nutt said.

Of course, his time at Arkansas also has taught him exactly what it takes to return to the annual SEC Football Media Days each summer: Wins.

Nutt, whose team didn't win enough to become bowl eligible for the first time under his watch in 2004, shrugged off questions about his job security during his two hours in the Wynfrey Hotel on Friday. Instead, Nutt said he's concentrating on ways to help the Razorbacks -- who are preparing for a season without departed playmaker Matt Jones -- get back into bowl contention this fall.

"That's just the nature of our business," Nutt said. "No one puts more pressure on me than myself. I don't worry about it. I don't look at it that way.

"I look at trying to make a difference in our team, make a difference in that young person's life and get the best staff and go play ball."

Arkansas will put the longest off-season in recent memory behind it when the Razorbacks report for preseason camp next Sunday. But it will take a little longer for Nutt's team to answer the numerous questions it faces without Jones.

After Arkansas tied for third (3-5) in the SEC's Western Division in 2004, the media tabbed the Hogs to finish fourth in 2005 behind LSU, Auburn and Alabama. Other preseason publications believe the Hogs will finish fourth or fifth in the division.

It's hard to argue against the prognosticators. After all, the Hogs lost their biggest offensive weapon and still sport a roster relatively loaded with youth.

But safety Vickiel Vaughn said last season's experience, coupled with the long off-season, has fueled the Hogs.

"You have that in the back of your mind of what you experienced and what it felt like," Vaughn said. "Like when you were a little child and you experienced something, like when your mom tells you, 'Don't touch the fire,' and you touch it and realize it's hot. You don't want to touch it again. You don't put your hand back up there.

"In order for us not to experience a losing season like that again, we're going to take the steps and precautionary measures so that we can have a better season."

At the top of the list is nailing down a starting quarterback between sophomore Robert Johnson, redshirt freshman Alex Mortensen and 22-year-old freshman Cole Barthel. On Friday, Nutt said he plans to name a starter 10 to 12 days into practice.

The quarterback will be protected by an offensive line that, at least in the starting five, is experienced and intact. He'll also have plenty of weapons at his disposal like receiver Marcus Monk and running back Peyton Hillis.

Another key is the improvement of the defense under new coordinator Reggie Herring, who was lured to Fayetteville after a successful season at North Carolina State.

Herring moved several players in his first few months on the job, including sophomore Marcus Harrison (defensive end to tackle) and senior Desmond Sims (linebacker to defensive end). The rugged, no-nonsense coach demanded discipline, speed and effort during 15 physical spring practices.

"Having a lot of guys come back, having a new coach like Reggie Herring come in and light a fire that you need, having guys step up in the workouts from this summer, it just kind of gives you the attitude that you know you can do well even though a key player that you had a year ago has gone," Vaughn said.

Nutt said the Hogs missed out on 15 to 20 extra practices when they failed to become bowl eligible. Once a team's season ends, it isn't allowed to practice outside of the mandated 15 spring workouts.

Practice time was cut short, but Arkansas tried to make up for the missed work by beginning the off-season conditioning program in December.

"I think our players and coaches were embarrassed," Nutt said. "We really planned on being the only team, only staff to go to seven straight bowl games. When that didn't happen you can really feel the sense of urgency and the attitude with the price they were willing to pay and the work they put forth for their teammates.

"We really feel like the highest treason there is is when you don't give your all, that you don't do your best. These guys really just did an outstanding job all winter long and I think that's where it all starts."

That determination will be key if the Hogs hope to avoid an unwanted feat in 2005.

Since 1944, the Razorbacks have had consecutive losing seasons just twice in 1952-53 and 1996-97, under former coach Danny Ford. Of course, Ford was shown the door in 1997 and athletic director Frank Broyles welcomed Nutt to campus.

Center Kyle Roper said Arkansas doesn't have any preconceived thoughts about a losing season in 2005.

Instead, the senior said Arkansas' eyes are only fixated on returning to a bowl game.

"It definitely wasn't fun," Roper said about 2004. "It was very disappointing.

"But it got us motivating and it has gotten us ready to be where we need to be."

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