Hogs Jump In National Championship Race

FAYETTEVILLE — The message was the same one that Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has been delivering every Sunday since his team opened the season with a 50-14 loss to Southern California.

He spoke of taking one game at a time, not looking ahead and how winning takes care of everything. But something was noticeably different. For the first time, Nutt had to face the realization that the Razorbacks are starting to be discussed seriously in the national championship race. It's no longer a hypothetical or merely wishful thinking. "We have a lot of faith in our team, but to honestly say, ‘Yeah, we thought we're going be here,' well, no," Nutt said the day after his team cruised to its ninth straight win with a surprisingly easy 31-14 victory over previously No. 13-ranked Tennessee. "But I knew that we had a good team. Unlike what everybody else was saying, I knew that we did." Thanks to the 17-point win over Tennessee, coupled with an unpredictable week in which four top 10 teams lost, Arkansas (9-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) moved up six spots to No. 5 in the latest Associated Press poll. It's the team's highest ranking since the Razorbacks were No. 4 before losing 15-13 to Texas on Oct. 19, 1985. Arkansas moved up five spots to No. 6 in the USA Today coaches' poll. But most importantly, the Razorbacks gained ground in the Bowl Championship Series standings, which are used to determine the two teams that will play for the national championship. With Louisville, Texas, Auburn and California each falling out of the national championship race with losses over the last week, Arkansas moved up four spots to No. 7 in the latest BCS standings. "It's like what we've been saying, winning takes care of everything," Nutt said. "If you said back three weeks ago, ‘Well, we should be getting more respect and this and that,' well, winning solves it all. "The answer is just keeping winning, and each week gets a little bit more important (and) gets a little bit bigger as more teams fall. You just don't want to be one of the teams that falls." Nutt admits he didn't think his team would be in this position after watching then-No. 6 Southern California take advantage of five turnovers to beat Arkansas by 36 points in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Sept. 2. But since the season opener, a healthy Darren McFadden and a stingy defense has helped propel the Razorbacks to nine straight wins, their longest winning streak since going 10-0 to open the 1988 season. During that stretch, Arkansas has gotten off to its first 6-0 start in the SEC to become a legitimate national championship contender. But for the time being, Nutt would rather his players worry about winning the SEC West and securing a trip to Atlanta for the conference championship game on Dec. 2. The Razorbacks have already clinched at least a share of the SEC West, and they can win the title outright with a victory over struggling Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Starkville. "This is it. This is championship week," Nutt said. "This is where you take it, and you are the sole owner of the western division championship. That's what these seniors deserve, and so all emphasis will be put on this week. "This is Super Bowl week."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories