Arkansas vs. Alabama

No. 16 Arkansas (1-0, 0-0) makes the trek to Tuscaloosa to face unranked Alabama (2-0, 1-0) in an SEC showdown that will be nationally televised by ESPN at 5:45 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- At the time, the win seemed like nothing more than a lucky break for Arkansas. It put the Razorbacks two games above .500, and gave coach Houston Nutt a brief reprieve from those disgruntled fans who were calling for his job.

But as the 2006 season unfolded, it became apparent that Arkansas' 24-23 double-overtime win over Alabama in Reynolds Razorback Stadium was the turning point.

It changed the course of Arkansas' season and sparked everything that followed, including a trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, a New Year's Day bowl appearance and a surprising 10-4 finish.

"We came into the season with high hopes, and we get beat by USC (50-14) and everything is on a down slope. And then it seemed like with each new game we gained confidence," Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis said.

"I felt if we would have lost that (Alabama) game, our confidence would have gone down even further and we wouldn't have had the type of year we had last year."

Alabama will again serve as the measuring stick for No. 16 Arkansas, and it's not an exaggeration to say that the Razorbacks' season could be defined by whether they win tonight's highly anticipated rematch in Bryant-Denny Stadium (5:45 p.m., ESPN).

A victory in front a mostly hostile crowd of 92,000 fans would give Arkansas' players a major confidence boost heading into next week's tough home game against Kentucky. It could also serve as a momentum-builder that propels the Razorbacks (1-0) forward.

A loss, however, would drop Arkansas to 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference and possibly out of the Associated Press' Top 25 poll. It could also create doubt amongst the coaches and players.

"Every game is a must-win, but seeing this is our next game plus it's the SEC opener, it's a real big game," Arkansas free safety Michael Grant said. "I think it's probably the biggest game (of the season).

"It's going to set the tone for the rest of the year."

The importance of tonight's game didn't go unnoticed during the two weeks that the Razorbacks had to prepare for the Crimson Tide (2-0, 1-0 SEC).

Arkansas' practices were more intense. The coaches demanded perfection, and defensive coordinator Reggie Herring was more short-tempered than usual.

Grant described Herring's demeanor over the past two weeks as "Coach Herring times 10." Arkansas' other coaches weren't too easy-going in practice, either.

"You can tell they're not taking any bull crap this week," Grant said. "It's serious business this week."

At this time a year ago, the Razorbacks were mostly unproven. There were serious concerns with the secondary, and the revamped passing game had not lived up to fan expectations.

Sound familiar?

But everything seemingly changed when Arkansas kicker Jeremy Davis booted an extra point in double overtime to beat Alabama on Sept. 23, 2006.

The win gave the Razorbacks the confidence to go into Auburn the following week and shock the second-ranked Tigers 27-10.

Arkansas went on to win seven consecutive games after the Alabama nail-biter and briefly entered the national championship picture. Nutt, meanwhile, went from being on the hot seat to being named the SEC Coach of the Year.

The Alabama win is considered the catalyst that got everything started, and today's game could have a similar effect on the remainder of Arkansas' season.

"You win a game like that, it's a big game, a big boost of confidence," Nutt said. "It's contagious. It goes all the way through your team.

"There is a mindset of confidence, and it just helps you."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories