Playing For Pride — And A Boot

FAYETTEVILLE — A national championship isn't at stake. A trip to a major bowl game might also be out of the picture.

As it turns out, the winner of today's game between Arkansas and LSU has little more to gain than pride and an approximately 200-pound trophy shaped like a boot.

For the first time since 1994, neither team is ranked heading into their annual regular-season finale.

The circumstances surrounding today's game in War Memorial Stadium are much different than they were the previous two seasons, when either Arkansas or LSU was still in the national championship race.

"We're definitely playing for pride right now. Obviously, we're out of bowl contention. It seems like they're out of their national championship hopes," Arkansas wide receiver Lucas Miller said. "So that's different for both teams.

"The last two years, we've both had great years and obviously that's been a goal. But it's been a tough season, they want to end it right and we want to end it right."

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today, and the game will be televised nationally on CBS.

LSU opened the season ranked No. 7 and with hopes of defending its national championship. But since a 51-21 loss at second-ranked Florida on Oct. 11, the Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC) have changed quarterbacks and alternated wins and losses on a weekly basis.

And last Saturday's embarrassing 31-13 defeat to Ole Miss knocked LSU out of the national polls for the first time since 2002. A second consecutive loss to Arkansas could leave last year's national champion playing in a second-tier bowl game.

"I challenged (my players) very personally in their own meeting room, and I challenged them as a team," LSU coach Les Miles said. "The opportunity for us to play in a good bowl game certainly is there.

"The opportunity to enjoy the outcome of a victory against our last opponent certainly is there."

Arkansas' players, meanwhile, had hoped to use "The Battle For The Boot" as a chance to earn their sixth win and become bowl eligible. But the Razorbacks (4-7, 1-6 SEC) were officially eliminated from postseason play with last Saturday's 31-28 loss at Mississippi State.

Still, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino insists there is plenty for his team to play for this afternoon. At least the Hogs can end an especially difficult season on a high note.

"It's really not that hard to get ready for a football team. Every guy on our team is a competitor," Petrino said. "You compete, you go out and you play. I don't remember who said it, ‘You play to win the game.'"

Over the past two years, the Hogs haven't needed any extra motivation to face their SEC West rival.

In 2006, Arkansas had reeled off 10 consecutive wins and was ranked fifth in the nation when it met No. 9 LSU in War Memorial Stadium. But the Razorbacks' national championship hopes were dashed with a 31-26 loss to the Tigers.

Last year's meeting offered even more intrigue.

There was wide-spread belief that Houston Nutt's tenure as the Razorbacks' coach would end with one final game in Baton Rouge last November.

At the same time, LSU was ranked No. 1 in the country and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden was making a strong Heisman Trophy push. The game lived up to the hype.

The Razorbacks pulled out a 50-48 win in triple overtime, Nutt resigned three days later to accept the Ole Miss job, LSU went on to win a national title and McFadden finished second in the Heisman race.

"The past two years we've kind of traded blows (with LSU). It's been fun. You always look forward to this game with the rivalry and the history," said Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs, who'll cap his distinguished career in his hometown of Little Rock.

"But in our situation, we're just going to go out there and compete like we can. Obviously, the season didn't work out the way we wanted it. But it would be nice for me and the seniors to be able to go out with a win and end our careers that way."

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