Rebs-Hogs series got big boost last November

The Ole Miss-Arkansas series has had a new chapter added to it since the last time the two played football. Late Saturday, a long wait for this game will have passed and a victor crowned.

Houston Nutt moving from Fayetteville to Oxford has this one on the radar screen again. It is a big game on both sides of the river.

Of course it's big since both are trying to win enough games to get to a bowl. At 3-4 overall and 1-3 in SEC play, they both still can. Saturday is a key contest.

Arkansas has played Ole Miss more than any other SEC team in football. While it's considered a long way from the Ole Miss campus to the Arkansas campus, Oxford is closer in proximity to Fayetteville than any of the other current SEC towns. That's one reason Ole Miss and Arkansas have played 54 times in football.

When Coach Frank Broyles was head hog, the Razorbacks went 0-6 against the Rebels. The series ended after the 1961 game with Arkansas brass saying, in essence, the Rebels left the Razorbacks too beat up for conference play. Back then Arkansas was in the Southwest Conference, and later four of its members joined with the Big 8 to form the Big 12. Arkansas joined the SEC.

So the Ole Miss-Arkansas series was dormant, save two Sugar Bowls in 1963 and 1970 both won by Ole Miss, for 20 years. Until 1981.

Steve Sloan, the Ole Miss head coach, and Lou Holtz, the Arkansas head coach, thought the series was worthy of renewal. By that time apparently so did Broyles, then the AD. Ole Miss AD Warner Alford signed off on it as well.

Game one was a headliner. The largest crowd to see an Ole Miss football game in Mississippi showed up, more than 63,000. That's still the most people to ever witness Ole Miss play a game within this state's borders.

To be fair, at least 15,000 wore Hog hats and Razorback red. The entire horseshoe end of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson was calling the hogs.

Arkansas was a national power under Broyles and Holtz, and it had only recently come off a historic win in the Orange Bowl over Oklahoma when Holtz stood firm on several player suspensions, got his team emotionally charged and ready, and upset the favored Sooners.

College football fans in both states looked forward to the 1981 revival of one of the South's gridiron rivalries, a game between teams from two power conferences. With everyone caught up in the fever-pitch excitement that night, the Rebels had a shot to win. They lost 27-13 but the outcome was in doubt until late.

The next year Ole Miss lost in Little Rock 14-12, and in the third game of the renewal, Billy Brewer's first Ole Miss team upset the Razorbacks in Jackson 13-10 for his first win as Rebel head coach. It was Holtz's last season with the Hogs before moving on as head coach at Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina.

In 1961, the Rebels had beaten the Razorbacks 16-0 in the dedication game of the refurbished and expanded stadium in Jackson, an ABC televised contest. Ironically, in Ole Miss' last SEC game in Jackson, the Rebels shutout the Razorbacks 19-0 in 1993, also on TV. Several of the games in this series were played in Memphis.

This weekend it's another showdown in the Ozarks, and the storyline for this rivalry got kicked up a notch late last November when Nutt joined the Rebel Nation.

Nutt said Monday at his weekly press conference he didn't know what type reception he'd get Saturday. He also was asked if he'd rather the game be played in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks still play a couple of times each year, than in Fayetteville.

"Absolutely," he said.

No matter where it's played Saturday or through the years, Ole Miss-Arkansas is a big deal on both sides of ole man river. Since late November and with both teams still in the bowl picture, Saturday's game is an even bigger deal.

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