Plenty Is At Stake For The Hogs Today

ORLANDO, Fla. - The frustration has been building over the past month, and Arkansas' players are feeling a sense of urgency that they haven't had at any other time this season.

That's what losing two straight games can do to a team that had won 10 in a row from early September to late November.

Players are antsy, coaches have taken on a more-serious tone and everyone seems ready to get back on the field. But none of them want to think about the possibility of ending an otherwise impressive season on a three-game losing streak.

That's why today's Capital One Bowl has taken on even more importance for the No. 12 Razorbacks.

"Man, this two-game losing streak hurts right now," Arkansas defensive tackle Keith Jackson Jr. said. "If we go home with another loss, it's going to be like a fluke season to us."

The way Arkansas' coaches and players see it, there can't be any more at stake when the Razorbacks (10-3) face No. 6 Wisconsin (11-1) at noon today in Citrus Bowl stadium. Everything from recruiting to the future of the program feels like it's on the line.

For starters, a win over the Badgers would give Arkansas 11 victories this season, an accomplishment that has happened only two other times in school history (1964, 1977).

It would also assure the Razorbacks of their first Top-10 finish since 1982, and likely put them in position for a Top 10 ranking in next season's preseason polls.

And there's more. After back-to-back losses to No. 4 LSU and No. 2 Florida, the Razorbacks feel that a bowl victory against a quality opponent like Wisconsin would:

* Help validate the season and complete what would be the biggest one-year turnaround in terms of wins in school history;

* Give the team an even bigger jolt of momentum heading into the offseason;

* Prevent the type of negativity that would surely come from frustrated fans if the team lost its last three games.

Talk about pressure.

"This is not just a normal game. This is (a) critical, pivotal game for us as far as this program and the direction (of it are concerned)," Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said.

"We've had a good year, but this can make it a special year. That's how significant this game is. If we do win this game, to me, instead of making a leap it makes it a quantum leap."

Herring made it a point to talk to his defensive players early last week about the importance of ending the season on a high note. He wanted them to know that there was still plenty to play for, even if their hopes at one time of winning the school's first SEC championship and playing for a national title are gone.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, meanwhile, has purposely not talked to his team about avoiding a three-game losing streak.

"I think that's the worst thing you can do," Nutt said. "They know that they've lost twice. They know how bad it's felt. I know the hurt in there. I've been in the locker room.

"... You don't have to say, 'Hey, how would you like to lose three games in a row?'"

Every game is important, that's what coaches like to say. But the last few have taken on even more significance for the Razorbacks, and the Capital One Bowl is no different.

Before Arkansas faced Mississippi State on Nov. 18, needing just a win over the lowly Bulldogs to clinch the SEC West, Nutt referred to it as his team's "Super Bowl week."

The stakes got even higher the following week. With the SEC West title already wrapped up, the Razorbacks had a chance to keep their slim national championship hopes alive by beating LSU in Little Rock. They lost 31-26.

And the week after that, Arkansas played No. 2 Florida with the hopes of winning the school's first SEC title -- and fell 38-28.

So the Razorbacks haven't been short on things to play for over the past two months. But the coaches and players are approaching today's game against Wisconsin with perhaps an even greater sense of urgency than in those games.

There is, after all, a lot riding on it.

"We want to stop the losing. We got so used to winning, winning 10 straight games," said Arkansas weakside linebacker Sam Olajubutu, who'll be starting his final collegiate game today.

"We just want to get back on that pace and just send it out (right) for the Razorbacks next season, so they can go into next year already with a win."


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