Bowl Game or Bust

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive tackle Zach Stadther admits he doesn't want to again spend his winter break at home.

It's not so much that he has a problem with seeing his family for the holidays. He'd just rather have a bowl game to prepare for than hang out in Little Rock for three weeks like he did last December.

"I want to go to a bowl game. I want to get a ring on my finger," Stadther said. "I want to show the world that Arkansas football is the big-time school to come to."

Before the season began, the Razorbacks had much loftier goals than simply getting the six wins needed to become bowl eligible.

They hoped to prove the critics wrong and become a darkhorse in the Southeastern Conference race.

However, as Arkansas heads into today's 6 p.m. game against Eastern Michigan (0-7) in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the Hogs find themselves with the same record they had after seven games last season. While they've made strides on offense and defense, they're still 3-4 and at the bottom of the SEC West standings.

"We wwant to go up instead of down like last year. Everybody remembers how bad that feeling was not being able to go to a bowl game," Arkansas wide receiver Jarius Wright said. "It's just not good at all."

Over the past few days, Arkansas' coaches and players have stressed that they're determined to get things corrected in hurry, so they could avoid the late collapse that kept them home for the holidays in 2008.

"Nobody wants to sit down and call it quits," Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said.

The Razorbacks lost three of their final five games last season to finish 5-7 and miss the postseason in coach Bobby Petrino's first season at Arkansas. And with No. 21 South Carolina and ninth-ranked LSU still on the schedule, the situation is getting dire for the Hogs, who still need three more wins to become bowl eligible.

"The reality of the situation is we are right now seven games into it. We have the same record that we did last year," Arkansas running back Michael Smith said. "This can go two ways. We can either step up, and everybody play and make sure that we make it to a bowl game. Maybe not the bowl game that we intended coming into the season, but a bowl game nevertheless.

"Or we can feel sorry for ourselves for feeling close and not being able to get a call here or make a play there and continue to think about that and not make it to a bowl game."

Arkansas isn't expected to have much trouble getting back to .500. After dropping consecutive road games at top-ranked Florida and No. 24 Ole Miss, the Razorbacks enter Halloween night — which is also homecoming — as 36-point favorites over Eastern Michigan.

The winless Eagles rank toward the bottom of the nation in several major offensive and defensive categories, including 110th in scoring defense (33.7 points per game), 114th in scoring offense (15.4 ppg.) and last in rushing defense (275.0 ypg.). As a result, they've been outscored 236-108 this season.

But as Petrino and others have stressed this week, today's game is more about themselves than Eastern Michigan, especially in the wake of last week's flat performance at Ole Miss.

"I think everybody's a little bit still upset, still has a little chip on their shoulders, still angry about the way we performed the last time out," Petrino said. "But that's OK. I think we should be (upset) a little bit."

And they're anxious to get on a roll.

"We know what we got to do as a team. It's not me. I can't tell them what to do; they know," Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett said. "We got to come back and play like we did a couple of weeks ago and get it rolling and get it full-steam ahead going."

A bowl trip is at stake.

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