As the Golden Hurricane players went through their offseason conditioning program, they had something on the field with them as a reminder of what was possible in 2008.
The trophy awarded to Tulsa for winning the 1944 Orange Bowl was taken out of its case inside the school's basketball arena, so every player could see it as he ran sprints.
"I'd walked past the Orange Bowl trophy, you know, 1,000 times down in the Reynolds Center," Tulsa offensive guard Justin Morsey said. "But when you see it out there on the field, it gets real."
Tulsa's players had the feeling last spring that they had the potential to go undefeated and earn an invite to a New Year's Day Bowl. It didn't matter that they're relative unknowns playing in Conference USA.
And thanks to a high-powered offense that has yet to be stopped, the No. 19 Golden Hurricane (8-0) has a chance to shake up the Bowl Championship Series like Boise State did in 2006.
To do so, Tulsa must first get past what its coaches and players acknowledge is the team's toughest challenge so far this season — beating Arkansas at 1 p.m. Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"We had a definitive plan when came into this season. We really planned to be exactly where we're at right now," Graham said. "The key to that is for our kids to stay grounded on the next step because all the time you spend speculating doesn't do any good.
"We've got to be focused on one thing right now and that's being 9-0. And we're facing, I think, our biggest test of the year."
Tulsa was a late addition to Arkansas' schedule, getting $850,000 for Saturday's game. But the Golden Hurricane isn't the typical Homecoming opponent that's expected to happily accept a check for a lopsided loss.
In fact, the Razorbacks are 8 1/2-point underdogs.
And with Tulsa ranked No. 18 in the latest BCS rankings, co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had more important things to talk about Monday than this weekend being his long-awaited return to Fayetteville.
Malzahn is in his second year as Tulsa's co-offensive coordinator after the former Springdale High coach spent one controversy-filled season working for Houston Nutt at Arkansas in 2006.
"I'm really not letting my mind go there," Malzahn said when asked about going back to Arkansas, where he served as Nutt's offensive coordinator. "I'm just focused on our team.
"I'm focused on win nine and trying our best to give our guys the best chance of winning and giving those guys the best plan to be successful."
Relying on Malzahn's spread no-huddle offense, Tulsa leads the nation in total offense (601.1 yards per game), scoring offense (55.6 points per game) and passing efficiency (200.4).
Meanwhile, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has been in Graham's position, coaching a Conference USA team that must go undefeated to keep its hopes of playing in a BCS bowl game alive.
"That's how I felt like when I was at Louisville. You were kind of on the outside and had to prove yourself to get into the BCS," Petrino said.
"There were times when we went and played at Miami and we knew if we didn't win the game at Miami, we weren't going to be in the BCS bowl game. That's just the bottom line and you just kind of face reality."
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