Not Another Easy Homecoming Game

FAYETTEVILLE — Homecoming weekend is typically a time when alumni return, parents visit and big-name schools pay top dollar for a blowout win over a lesser opponent.

A year ago, Florida International gladly accepted a $625,000 check from Arkansas in exchange for a 58-10 loss in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

And Arkansas got its money's worth in 2006 with a 63-7 win over Southeast Missouri State on former coach Houston Nutt's 49th birthday.

But today doesn't have the feel of a typical Homecoming game. For starters, Arkansas will be a 7-point underdog when it hosts No. 19 Tulsa at 1 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Former Springdale High coach Gus Malzahn will make his much-anticipated return to Fayetteville as Tulsa's co-offensive coordinator.

And both teams have more to gain than simply the $850,000 check that the Golden Hurricane will receive for playing this game.

"I feel like it is judgment week for us," Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway said. "I feel like we have to come out and prove a lot to the world, not only to our fans, but to ourselves and our seniors."

While Tulsa (8-0) must stay undefeated to remain in the BCS race, the Hogs (3-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) are fighting simply to earn a bowl berth.

After suffering back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss by a combined three points, Arkansas' players are frustrated and realize that their bowl hopes are fading fast.

"Every week is very important, but right now we're getting down to the last four games and it's getting to be crunch time," Arkansas safety Matt Harris said. "It's time to buckle up and play some hard football and get some wins on the board, so we can play on Christmas Day or Jan. 1."

The Razorbacks have lost five of their last six games, putting them in the position of having to win three of their final four games to become bowl eligible.

Along with it being Homecoming and a must-win, today also marks the last time that Arkansas' seniors will play a game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"We're going to come out here and really work hard and everyone do the best they can, so the seniors can have their last game in the stadium be a win," Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said. "So that's what we're working for this week."

Unfortunately for Arkansas' upperclassmen, they don't have an easy Homecoming opponent like Florida International or Louisiana-Monroe. In fact, Tulsa is far from being a cupcake.

Despite playing in Conference USA, Tulsa has gained national attention with its high-powered offense and made a case over the first two months of the season that it deserves to play in a BCS bowl game.

As the only major conference team on the Golden Hurricane's schedule, Arkansas poses the toughest challenge to Tulsa's hopes of playing in a New Year's Day bowl.

"I know how much this game means to us, and make no bones about it, this is a big game for me and for our program and where we're at as a program," Tulsa coach Todd Graham said. "And what an opportunity that we have. We're going to do everything we can to make that a successful opportunity."

Considering that Arkansas and Tulsa have both struggled defensively, today's game has a chance to turn into a shootout.

The Golden Hurricane has the nation's leading passer in quarterback David Johnson and a hurry-up, no-huddle offense that's averaging a nation's best 601.1 yards and 55.6 points per game.

Arkansas, meanwhile, has shown that it can gain yards when its offense isn't killing drives with too many penalties and poor execution in the red zone.

"(Tulsa has) scored a bunch of points, so it'll be fun to see them go up against that (Arkansas) defense and just sit on the sideline when they're up and kind of watch it," Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick said. "But at the same time, we've got to worry about ourselves."

Either way, it should make Homecoming interesting.

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