No Guarantees

FAYETTEVILLE — There's a common perception in college football that Steve Roberts would like to correct.

The Arkansas State coach knows nonconference dates against BCS schools are better known as "guarantee" games. He understands the reasoning: Programs like his are guaranteed six-figure paychecks, while opponents are hoping for easy wins in exchange. But there's a problem with the logic, and his team's 18-14 win at Texas A&M proved it last Saturday.

"A lot of people think (guarantee games) mean guaranteed wins," Roberts said Wednesday. "That's not true. It's just the money that's exchanged that's guaranteed."

Arkansas State's surprising win was one more sign that, in this day and age, nothing is certain in college football.

Sure, outmanned programs like Georgia Southern and Youngstown State were little more than sacrificial lambs to power conference teams last week. But every now and then, there's a humbling lesson for some unexpecting team to learn.

Arkansas nearly found out the hard way during its opener, needing a comeback to squeeze out a 28-24 win against Western Illinois. The Razorbacks (1-0) face a similar danger against Louisiana-Monroe (0-1) in War Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. After all, it wasn't long ago that ULM celebrated its 21-14 win at Alabama last November.

So Arkansas safety Matt Harris said the Razorbacks aren't taking anything for granted as they prepare for the Warhawks, who are 3-30-1 against Southeastern Conference teams.

"All the pressure is on the ‘big' team," Harris said. "You have to live up to that pressure and perform and kind of block everyone out. ... Arkansas State and Texas A&M last week, it could happen to anyone and you don't want to be that anyone."

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is hoping that has soaked in after saying his team was "lucky" to beat Western Illinois.

He said the close calls and upsets have been more likely since the NCAA reduced scholarships numbers for Football Bowl Subdivision(formerly I-A) teams to 85 a few years back. Some players can't go to schools like Arkansas because scholarships available aren't available. They've headed to Arkansas State or ULM instead.

"There's more players out there," Petrino said. "You can go recruit in different areas, when it used to be 100 scholarships or more, there were guys taking players just so somebody else didn't get them. I think that really balanced it."

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville believes familiarity has helped, too.

ULM signed a long-term deal with Arkansas. The Warhawks also have played Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss under coach Charlie Weatherbie. So walking into an SEC stadium may not be such an intimidating experience for some.

Tuberville noticed when ULM prepared for last weekend's game, which Auburn won 34-0. He said the Warhawks, who have played the Tigers four times in seven years, were much improved.

"They expected to win," Tuberville said. "That's a different attitude than I've seen in them over the years. ... Confidence goes a long way and ULM has a lot of confidence."

ULM linebacker James Truxillo said the Warhawks gained a heaping helping of it thanks to the Alabama win. It has been touted as one of the biggest wins in program history and offered a sign that, if things go to plan, ULM can beat anyone.

Truxillo said it also helps to watch other schools pull off upsets as well. Appalachian State's win at Michigan in 2007 is replayed over and over, leaving others determined to repeat it.

"I guess these smaller schools are just getting tired of losing, or just showing up for these games and getting their butts kicked," Truxillo said. "They're putting together a game plan, coming out and fighting, giving these big schools everything they've got."

Texas A&M saw the results. So did Mississippi State, which lost to Louisiana Tech. And Virginia Tech, which lost to East Carolina.

The Razorbacks are counting on a struggle with ULM even though they're 7-0 against the Warhawks. Harris said Arkansas understands there just aren't any guarantees.

"We definitely have a lot of respect for these guys," Harris said. "We know they have a lot of athletes and they're a very dangerous team. We're definitely not going to take them lightly."

No Guarantees

Arkansas' close call against Western Illinois in the opener wasn't as bad as it could've been. After all, the Razorbacks didn't lose to the FCS team. But here is a look at some of the biggest nonconference upsets that have involved SEC teams since 2000:

Year SEC Team Opponent Score

2000 LSU Alabama-Birmingham 13-10

2003 Alabama N. Illinois 19-16

2003 Alabama Hawaii 37-29

2004 Ole Miss Wyoming 37-32

2004 Kentucky Ohio 28-16

2004 Mississippi St. Maine 9-7

2005 Ole Miss Wyoming 24-14

2005 Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee St. 17-15

2007 Alabama ULM 21-14

2008 Mississippi St. Louisiana Tech 22-14

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