Old SWC Foes Renew Series

ARLINGTON, Texas - A few days ago, Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton tried to bring up the past while speaking to his group of young tailbacks.

It didn't go so well, though.

Horton told his players — who are at least half his age — about what it was like for him as an Arkansas wide receiver in the late 1980s to face Texas A&M every year in the now-defunct Southwest Conference.

But Horton quickly realized he was losing his audience. Turns out, the running backs weren't interested in another boring history lesson.

"I brought it up the other day, and it was like, ‘Ah, whatever, coach," said Horton, who turns 42 on Oct. 20. "... We moved on to the next subject pretty quick."

Many of the freshmen who made up Arkansas' 2009 recruiting class were only a few months old the last time the Razorbacks and Aggies played each other in football — a 13-3 win by Texas A&M on Nov. 16, 1991.

But after an 18-year hiatus, Arkansas (1-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) and Texas A&M (3-0) are about to renew a series that dates back to 1903. And in the process, the two schools hope a possible rivalry will be born at 6:30 p.m. today when they kick off the first of at least 10 Southwest Classics in the Dallas Cowboys' new $1.15 billion stadium.

"Ever since I first got here, there's been a lot of people that talked about the rivalry with Texas A&M and the old Southwest Conference days," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "A lot of our boosters, a lot of guys that came to our fantasy camp, are very aware of the rivalry.

"And we're excited to rekindle it."

Of course, the Razorbacks have more pressing issues than whether their annual series with Texas A&M could someday develop into a full-fledged rivalry.

After back-to-back losses to No. 18 Georgia and third-ranked Alabama, Arkansas' players are desperate to get a win that would boost their confidence and get their record back to .500 heading into perhaps the toughest stretch of their schedule.

"I'm not trying to build a rivalry. We're just trying to go out and get a win," Arkansas offensive guard Mitch Petrus said. "I'm not out there looking to go piss somebody off. We're trying to win a game."

Today's game isn't being billed as a showdown between the SEC and the Big 12. It's instead all about trying to recreate the Southwest Conference's glory days when Arkansas and Texas A&M were two of the league's charter members.

Officials from both schools announced in March that they had agreed to a 10-year deal for the Razorbacks and Aggies to play annually in Cowboys Stadium, which Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones has dubbed "Razorback Stadium West."

Each school is expected to net $4 to $5 million a year from the game, and the contract runs through 2018 with an option for the series to be extended beyond that.

"It feels like the playoffs in Texas (at) a neutral site. That's kind of what it feels like to me," said Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who played three high school games in now-vacant Texas Stadium. "I think it is going to be a great deal."

Instead of reminiscing about the past or looking ahead to the future, Arkansas players hope to stay focused on the task at hand. That includes trying to slow down Texas A&M's top-ranked offense and avoiding the slew of mental mistakes that caused the Razorbacks' high-scoring offense to struggle in last week's 35-7 loss at Alabama.

But for Arkansas defensive ends coach Kirk Botkin, the inaugural Southwest Classic brings back memories of when the Razorbacks and Aggies were conference foes. It also reminds him of a family divided.

Botkin was a star tight end for the Razorbacks in the early 1990s. And since his brother attended Texas A&M, they'd go back and forth, talking trash in the days leading up to when the two schools faced each other.

"My mom one year had a shirt that had A&M on the front and Arkansas on the back, or vice versa," Botkin said. "They did some of that stuff because they didn't know what side to sit on."

There's bound to be more trash talking in the Botkin family for at least the next decade. That comes with matching these old Southwest Conference foes.

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