"That game changed lives," head coach Mack Brown noted this week.
From an Arkansas perspective, that game never existed. It will honor its 1964 team (a group that won a share of the national title 40 years ago) this Saturday when the ancient rivals tee up for what should be the last time for a very long time. What matters now, in this throwback of a game, is whether Texas is physical enough, defensively sound enough and, dammit!, angry enough to put the Razorbacks in their place for old times sake and restore a little order in the universe.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said this week that the 2004 Longhorns boast the greatest collection of talent, in any one place, that you will see all season. The only thing more laughable was when Brown said, "Their players are as good as ours." Texas does not have the greatest assemblage of all 117 programs this year, but it comes close (Texas' senior and junior classes were consensus Top Three recruiting classes when Mr. February signed them). Meanwhile, Arkansas returns just four defensive and one offensive player from last year's team.
"We get too much credit for the talent of our players, they dont get near enough," Brown said. "They've got really good players."
They do have really good players, but most of them are really young players. Nutt is replacing his entire O-line, his entire secondary, his entire offensive backfield and receivers. QB Matt Jones can carry a team on his stout shoulders. Their offense will still line up and hit you in the mouth. Their kamikaze defense blitzes from every direction. The game will be played in SEC country, on Saturday night, in front of frothing-at-the-mouth fans that have been waiting for this game since it was announced nearly six years ago.
BUT...if Texas gets pushed around by a squad that returns just one offensive and four defensive starters (especially one that embarrassed it in its own house last year) you'll be able to fry bacon on Brown's hot seat. I am still very concerned about the lack of quality depth at SLB and DE. But I am heartened by the intensity and aggression that defense put on display last Saturday. What's more, the Razorbacks have never faced the one-two punch of Vince Young and Cedric Benson.
Texas is an 11 point favorite. The average margin of victory for Texas in this series is 22.5 points. That still sounds about right. Maybe I'm feeling too confident about this one, but Texas 34, Arkansas 17.
Pearle: The Austin American-Statesman this week ran a big, full-color picture of a pile of Arkansas players lying on the Royal-Memorial turf doing the upside-down hook-em after last years game. The paper also reported that a Pig player had rammed a state-of-Arkansas flag into the turf. I had forgotten about these acts of hillbilly classlessness. I probably had just blotted them out of my mind in my disgust over the way that game went down last year. But the photos brought it all back, and reinforced what is riding on the game Saturday night in Fayetteville: R-E-V-E-N-G-E.
Texas owes Arkansas -- for the junior-high display put on by Houston Nutt after the Cotton Bowl in 2000 and for the antics of his players following the game last year.
Lets face it -- the Hogs deserve credit for the way they physically handled Texas in both of those games. They deserved to win them both. And, sure, you can understand the excitement of players and coaches after two huge wins over a traditional rival from a neighboring state. But theres a difference between being excited and being low-class, and Nutt and his players took a big broad-jump over the line after both games.
So Texas simply needs to win Saturday, to gut it up and turn in a courageous effort in the zany, hostile wilderness of Pig Red in which theyll be playing. And I love their chances to do just that. Why? Because one thing we can say about the Longhorn football program under Mack Brown: they have been very good at going on the road in murderous environments and smashing the home team in the mouth. A&M, Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Texas Tech -- the Horns have performed well, sometimes brilliantly, in all of these venues to notch victories over proud programs.
Though North Texas last weekend turned out to be virtually no test for Texas, I liked what I saw from the Horns in every phase in terms of execution. This team, with an older Vince Young and Cedric Benson running behind a more experienced Texas line, looks powerful. The defense swarmed last weekend and looked like it was having fun jacking people. So I feel good about the players Texas will put on the field against Arkansas.
As for the Hogs, they are certainly in a revamp year on offense, replacing 10 starters, and only return four starters on defense. But folks, this is Arkansas, a tradition rich program playing in the SEC -- they will have excellent players all over the field, and the biggest thorn in Texas side a year ago, QB Matt Jones, is back. So I dont place too much stock in the fact that Texas will somehow be facing a green, inexperienced team. Maybe, but that team will be plenty good, and fired up.
But I like Texas Saturday to do what it takes to notch this crucial victory. The Horns are motivated, talented, and road-tested. They will take the Hogs in a nail-biter. Texas 28, Arkansas 24.
Ross: Forget all that you've heard about Arkansas' youth and inexperience, its small number of returning starters, its non-ranking, its lesser talent, blah, blah, blah. All that's fine and dandy, and largely true (except for the talent differential, which I believe is not nearly as great as advertised), but its simply not a predictor of the outcome of the game in the Ozarks Saturday evening.
A month ago, I would have given the Horns a distinct advantage in the game, largely for the reasons above, but as the calendar has crept toward Sept. 11, as two-a-days revealed strengths and weaknesses, as each team shined in its opener, my certainly in a Longhorn pick has wavered.
Make no mistake, Texas looked great in almost all phases in shellacking the (not so) Mean Green. But virtually the same can be said for Arkansas in its thrashing of New Mexico State. The difference between the Hogs and the Horns is minimal, which makes this game is toss-up. I won't be surprised if Texas wins. I won't be surprised if Arkansas wins.
The Hogs, despite youth, inexperience and supposedly lesser talent, have proven capable of overcoming some of the same disadvantages (particularly "lesser talent") vs. the Horns in the past. Credit goes to Houston Nutt for that. He and his staff have had his teams better prepared and better motivated in each of those meetings. And those triumphs came in Dallas and in Austin. The environment Saturday will be, shall we say, less hospitable to life as we know it than either of those Texas locales.
As big underdog Troy physically whipped UT's Big 12-mate Missouri for the last three quarters last night, ESPN's Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit commented on ESPN's Saturday line-up of games, which of course includes Texas-Arkansas. Herbstreit predicted a big game for Cedric Benson while Corso claimed this will be a test of UT's "heart".
I think both talking heads have it about right, although Corso's use of "heart" is a bit off. I think "passion" is a better term. I've seldom thought Texas played without heart (save for some players in the second half of last year's OU game), but I certainly think Mack Brown's teams have played far below the passion level of their opponents. That's led to losses to teams like, well, like Arkansas.
And without the off-season coaching changes, I probably would have picked against the Horns in this one for that very reason. The Pigs' passion, stoked by 72,000 Hog hat wearin' Horn haters, would have given them the edge despite any advantages Texas brought to Fayetteville. But Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey, I believe, have changed the persona of this Texas team. Not just the defense, the whole team. And although the contentious history of the two teams squaring off Saturday night should make Fayetteville a snakepit, UT has played some of its best big-game football under Brown on the road under the lights. I think they will do the same in a barnburner. Texas 31, Arkansas 27.