The Wait Is Over: Nutt Is Back

FAYETTEVILLE — Like it or not, Houston Nutt will be back on Arkansas' campus for at least a few hours today.

For the past 11 months, Razorback fans have gone on Internet message boards and sports talk radio shows to discuss one game more than any other on Arkansas' schedule.

Well, perhaps the most anticipated game in recent memory has finally arrived. It's the Nutt Bowl — a chance for the former Arkansas coach to face the school he left and some of the fans who helped show him the door.

But Arkansas' players insist they have no intentions of getting caught up in the "soap-opera drama," as tight end D.J. Williams referred to it. They need a win against Ole Miss, not vindication from Nutt.

"That's something, I think not just me but every player on the team, is going to block out for the game," Williams said. "We're here to play Ole Miss and not play against coach Nutt."

That seems to be the message that everyone — from Arkansas' coaches and players to Nutt himself — has been stressing over the past week.

While some fans will boo Nutt from the moment he steps into Reynolds Razorback Stadium, all the melodrama will likely be pushed aside and everything should get back to normal once the football is kicked off at 6 p.m. today.

Or at least that's the hope.

"Once that ball is kicked off, you're totally into the game. It's the players that are blocking and tackling and I think that's when you get totally lost in the ball game," Nutt said. "And everything else, that's gone."

Much of the talk surrounding today's game, of course, has centered on Nutt's first trip back to Arkansas since he resigned under pressure last November. But one important aspect has gotten lost in the shuffle.

Both the Razorbacks and Rebels have struggled lately, and at 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference, each team is fighting simply to get bowl eligible.

The winner of today's game will get its record back to .500, and more importantly, move a step closer to securing the six wins needed to go to a bowl game.

"When we get on the field (today), it's a must-win game for us to get to postseason play," Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs said. "And I think that's the attitude we're going to take into it."

It might be difficult, though, for coaches and players from both teams to block out all the outside factors. After all, Nutt spent a decade as Arkansas' coach and was still popular with some of his former players when he left for Ole Miss.

In a sense, the Rebels will take the field today looking much like the Razorbacks did a year ago. There's Nutt, four of his former Arkansas assistant coaches who followed him to Oxford and the Wild Rebel formation, previously known as the WildHog.

"(The situation) is a little different, no doubt about it. But at the same time, we both — Ole Miss and Arkansas — need a win really bad," said Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton, who spent last season on Nutt's coaching staff.

"So we're going to fight our butts off to get it. And hopefully (tonight) about 9:30 we'll be singing the fight song."

The health of Arkansas running back Michael Smith could help determine whether the Razorbacks can spoil Nutt's much-anticipated return to Fayetteville.

Smith, the SEC's leading rusher at 131.8 yards per game, has been bothered by a concussion suffered in last Saturday's loss at Kentucky. And while he has been limited in practice over the past few days, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino expects the junior to start.

Still, today seems to be mostly about Nutt. As much as everyone has tried to downplay the coach's return, Williams acknowledges that there will be a different feel to this game.

It's Nutt Bowl after all.

"The hype that's about to be put on this game is going to get emotions going through everybody," Williams said. "And I have a feeling everybody is going to be moving around a little faster, hitting a bit little harder and I think that's going to be great and a great show for everybody to watch."

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