Hogs Not Concerned With Going Bowling Yet

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk hasn't gotten the chance to play in a bowl game. He came a year too late.

Cornerback Chris Houston hasn't been fortunate, either.

He received the bags, the clothes and the other gifts given to Arkansas' players when they went to the 2003 Independence Bowl. But he redshirted that season as a freshman, so he didn't get a chance to play in the 27-14 win over Missouri.

Since then, the closest Monk and Houston have come to a bowl game is watching one on TV.

"It's tough. You're at home watching everybody play when you know you should be playing and you want to be playing," Monk said. "It's something we had to go through as a team, but we bounced back."

The bowl season is still more than two months away, but No. 15 Arkansas could secure a place in the postseason with a win today over struggling Ole Miss (2-5, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

After losing 50-14 in the season opener to No. 3 Southern California, the Razorbacks (5-1, 3-0 SEC) have reeled off five straight wins and need just one more to reach the six victories required for a team to be bowl eligible.

Of course, Arkansas' coaches and players have bigger things in mind than simply a return trip to Shreveport, La.

"This is so critical," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of today's game. "It's the first game you can be bowl eligible and a lot more things are at stake. You're still the only undefeated SEC team (in conference play), so we have a lot to play for."

Arkansas' priorities have changed as a result of its early success this season.

The goal is no longer about simply getting invited to any bowl game. It's about winning the SEC West, going to the SEC championship game and earning the chance to play in either the Sugar Bowl or the Cotton Bowl.

Heading into today, Arkansas stands alone atop the SEC West with games against No. 7 Tennessee and No. 14 LSU still remaining. The Hogs can't afford a letdown against Ole Miss if they hope to go to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

"Last year at this time, we were 2-4. We had to get four more wins to go to a bowl," Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu said. "Now, we just need one more win to go to a bowl.

"It takes the pressure off of you looking for a bowl, but still the pressure is on. We're trying to win every game and just take it one game at a time."

But coaches and players admit they're sitting in a more comfortable position than they've been in the last two years.

In 2004, the Razorbacks needed to beat No. 12 LSU in Little Rock in the final game of the season to get the six wins needed to be bowl eligible. They lost 43-14.

The situation got even tougher last season when Arkansas was eliminated from bowl contention by early November.

"I've been watching bowl games since I was little," Houston said. "That's something you do around the holidays, and just being left out, a big part is missing. You want everybody to be watching you during the bowl games."

Representatives from the Cotton Bowl and the Capital One Bowl are expected to be in attendance today to watch Arkansas host Ole Miss.

But Nutt and Arkansas' other coaches have stressed to the players the importance of not looking ahead. At the same time, the team has loftier goals than just being bowl eligible.

"Could care less," Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said when asked this week about the possibility of being bowl eligible after today. "Right now, we're looking at the big picture."

Either way, getting a sixth win today is important.

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