SEC West Champs, Put It On A T-Shirt

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The white T-shirts were handed out as Arkansas' coaches and players gathered with their fans on the sidelines of Davis Wade Stadium.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt grabbed a T-shirt and lifted it above his head to a chant of "SEC! SEC!" Each of his players wore one of the new shirts on the way out of the visitors' locker room.

After all, the No. 5 Razorbacks might as well wear it on their chests: They're the Southeastern Conference's Western Division champions -- just as the T-shirts read.

Of course, it took Arkansas overcoming a sluggish performance by its offense and a less-than-Heisman Trophy worthy performance by running back Darren McFadden to clinch the title with a 28-14 win over Mississippi State on Saturday.

"We knew this was the most important (win) because everybody was talking a lot this past week about a BCS (bowl), about Atlanta, about all the other things," Nutt said.

"This is why coaches get gray hairs. This is why you get nervous -- Mississippi State."

In the days leading up to Saturday's game, Nutt had told his players repeatedly not to take the struggling Bulldogs (3-8, 1-6) lightly. He referred to this as their championship week, their Super Bowl, and everyone knew what to expect.

"It was a dogfight," Arkansas guard Stephen Parker said. "It wasn't an easy victory. None of us thought it would be an easy victory."

Despite committing several costly mistakes that allowed Mississippi State to hang around, Arkansas (10-1, 7-0 SEC) pulled away down the stretch to win its 10th straight game and clinch its second outright SEC West championship in school history.

The Razorbacks shared the title in 1998 and 2002, but they hadn't been sole owners of the SEC West championship since 1995.

"It's just something that's overwhelming. You don't even know how to explain it," Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "We're going to try to enjoy it as much as we can, but we know the season is not over with."

In fact, Arkansas prolonged its season by at least another week thanks to Saturday's win in front of a crowd of 41,845.

The Razorbacks, the only team still undefeated in SEC play, face No. 9 LSU in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium on Friday before traveling to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2. Arkansas will face No. 3 Florida.

"You can only enjoy this win for tonight and then you have come back and get ready for LSU," said McFadden, who was held to only 84 yards on 26 carries, though he broke off a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

It has been a bizarre season for Arkansas. It began Sept. 2 with a 50-14 loss in Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium to Southern California and included impatient fans calling for Nutt's firing.

But Arkansas has put together one of the most surprising turnarounds in recent memory by winning 10 games in a row, its longest winning streak since 1988. This is also the first time that the team has won its first seven games in the SEC.

From the very beginning, Saturday was just as strange.

"I thought we were tired in pregame warmups. I was a little concerned; I thought we were tired," Nutt said. "We weren't moving as fast.

"(Running backs coach) Danny (Nutt) came up to me, and he thought his backs were moving slower than usual. I was like, 'Don't tell me that now. This is only for the championship.'"

McFadden was held to only seven yards on five carries in the first quarter, and the offense struggled to even stay on the field.

But despite holding the ball for only 4:14 in the first quarter, Arkansas led 14-7 thanks to an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown by Chris Houston and McFadden's 92-yard kick return.

"We didn't execute as well as we'd like," Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick said. "But we came up 7 at half, made some big plays and at the end we started running the ball and doing what we do best."

Apparently, that's win.

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