Perfect Hogs Look To Join Rare SEC Company

FAYETTEVILLE -- The winning streak began with a one-point win over Tennessee in Knoxville in 1980, and it continued through the next two seasons.

From 1980-82, Georgia didn't lose to a single Southeastern Conference team. During that stretch, the Bulldogs captured three SEC championships and one national title.

It was an impressive run, and former Georgia coach Vince Dooley laughs when asked if it was easier back then to go undefeated in the SEC.

After all, he had only six -- not eight -- conference games to worry about in a season and there was no SEC Championship Game.

"It wasn't easy, I'll tell you that," Dooley said.

Ask anyone who has coached in the SEC how difficult it is to go through the conference undefeated, and you'll get roughly the same response. They talk about needing to play physical and fundamentally sound football. It also requires plenty of luck, too.

Not many teams can do that for an entire SEC schedule, and that's why only seven teams have gone 8-0 since the league expanded its conference schedule from seven to eight games in 1992.

No. 5 Arkansas is looking to be included in that select company.

The Razorbacks (10-1) are 7-0 in the SEC for the first time in school history, and they have a chance to accomplish the rare feat of going through a season undefeated in conference play.

To do so, though, they must get past No. 9 LSU (9-2, 5-2 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium and then beat No. 4 Florida (10-1, 7-1 SEC) in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2.

"(It's) very tough," Dooley said of remaining unbeaten in the SEC, which is regarded as the nation's top conference. "And I think it's getting even tougher to do it.

"It will be certainly challenging for Arkansas to do it in light of what's directly ahead -- ahead being LSU, who could well be as talented of a team as there is in the country, and also Florida, who has somehow gone through an extremely difficult schedule and done amazingly well."

The last team to go through the SEC without losing is Auburn, which missed out on a chance to play for a national championship in 2004 despite going 8-0 in the league and 11-0 before the bowl game.

Even LSU, which shared the national championship with Southern California in 2003, suffered a 19-7 loss to Florida in Baton Rouge.

"Everybody is probably going to have one game where it doesn't work out," said former Georgia coach and current ESPN analyst Jim Donnan, whose best SEC record in five seasons in Athens was 6-2.

In fact, Donnan has picked LSU to beat Arkansas on Friday. Winning eight straight games in the SEC is just that tough.

"If you put that (SEC) schedule up, I don't think any coach can say as they go through the schedule, 'That's a win. That's a win. That's a win,'" Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "I mean, you just can't go to Florida, to Georgia, to LSU, to Alabama, at Ole Miss, at Tennessee or at Arkansas, and say, 'That's a 'W. That, you just chalk it up.' You can't do it.

"That's what makes this league so tough. And even when people say, 'Well, this SEC may be down a little bit this year,' well, I would still encourage anyone to play the schedule of the SEC and see really what happens, even on a down year."

Arkansas has taken advantage of its bruising running game and a few lucky breaks to remain undefeated in the SEC up to this point in the season.

Sophomore Darren McFadden, running behind a senior-laden offensive line, helped the Razorbacks overpower No. 14 Auburn and No. 19 Tennessee in lopsided wins. And Arkansas escaped with victories over Vanderbilt and Alabama thanks to several missed kicks, including four by the Crimson Tide's Leigh Tiffin.

"I don't think you assume you're going to get a loss somewhere (in the SEC). I think everybody is trying to win every ball game," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose team went undefeated in the SEC during its national championship run in 1998.

"But just the fact of the matter is it's very difficult to do that because of injuries, playing on the road in the league is very tough and all those things."

Considering how much parity is in the SEC, the general consensus is that any team that goes through the league undefeated should get the chance to play for a national championship.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has been vocal about his team not getting the opportunity in 2004, and it appears the Razorbacks are a longshot to get into the Bowl Championship Series national title game on Jan. 8.

Arkansas is No. 6 in the latest BCS standings, and the team needs help to move ahead of Michigan, USC and Notre Dame. But the more immediate goal is trying to get to 8-0 in the SEC.

"You better be extremely physical, you better execute, you better play sound football, you got to play great defense and have a great special teams," Nutt said about what it takes to go undefeated in the SEC. "That's the only way you can do it."

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