Arkansas ready to be part of national discussion
Jake Bequette isn't caught up in all the ''what-ifs'' that have to happen in order for Arkansas to play for the Southeastern Conference title or even a national championship.
The senior defensive end is instead steadfast in his belief that the No. 6 Razorbacks (9-1, 5-1 SEC) will have a chance at both if they win their final two regular-season games.
''I think we'll have the opportunity,'' Bequette said. ''That's what I believe. I might be wrong thinking that, but I think that if we're able to accomplish our goals and win the rest of our games, then all of our goals will be right there in front of us.''
Winning those two final games will be no easy task for Arkansas, which closes out the regular season with a trip to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 25. Before the Razorbacks can worry about the Tigers, however, they must first face Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5) in Little Rock, Ark., on Saturday.
''There's a lot of teams talking now,'' Bequette said. ''There's probably 10-12 teams that think they have a shot, but only one of them is going to get it. So, if we want to be that team, we have to win one game at a time and it starts on Saturday.''
Several scenarios exist that would place Arkansas in the SEC championship game, but coach Bobby Petrino expects the Razorbacks to focus on the here and now. It's the same mentality that Petrino brought with him to Arkansas when he was hired, one he stuck with as the Razorbacks struggled to a 5-7 record his first season in 2008.
Times have certainly changed since then for Arkansas, which clinched its first back-to-back winning seasons in SEC play since joining the league in 1992 with Saturday's 49-7 win over Tennessee.
''This senior class has done a lot for us, really changed a lot of things around here and set the standards very high,'' Petrino said. ''So, I'm excited about it. I'm excited to finish this year off the way we need to finish and what lies ahead of us.''
The Razorbacks won eight games and the Liberty Bowl in Petrino's second season, and they followed that up with the school's first BCS bowl game appearance in the Sugar Bowl last season.
Petrino embraced talk of winning the SEC and national championship leading into this season, and Arkansas has responded since a 38-14 loss at Alabama on Sept. 24. The Razorbacks have won six straight and with one more win will earn their first back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988-89 in the Southwest Conference.
They are one of only four SEC schools, along with the Crimson Tide, LSU and Auburn, to win 20 of their last 25 games. All four are in the SEC West, and Alabama, the Tigers and Razorbacks are all ranked in the top six in the country.
Those are all facts not lost on Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen as the Bulldogs prepare to face the SEC's top offense this week.
''It's a very challenging, very difficult division,'' Mullen said. ''The one team that's not in the top six are the defending national champions (Auburn). But that's part of the division that we play in and you look at the teams ... Most of the teams you're playing are ranked and one of the top teams nationally.''
Arkansas climbed to No. 6 in this week's BCS rankings, equaling the school's highest mark (2006).
''There (are) a lot of other teams that aren't in the top six,'' Bequette said. ''I think that we've gained some respect in that regard, but I kind of like being under the radar. I think that if we continue to win then we'll be on the radar.''
When, and if, the time comes for the Razorbacks to be on the national radar, receiver Jarius Wright is ready to prove they belong.
''Me, personally, I think the Arkansas Razorbacks are ready for the best,'' Wright said. ''If that's SEC championship, national championship talk, then I think we are ready for that.''