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The impossible dream 

click to enlarge Arkansas Razorbacks 2011 image

Disclaimer: This columnist's birth occurred almost eight years after the Game of the Century against Texas. All subsequent commentary should be accordingly read in that context.

Stop fretting over the hypothetical, and savor the actual. There is no sense taxing the neurons over what might occur if Arkansas beats top-ranked LSU on Friday afternoon.

By the time this edition reaches the newsstand, there will be one last 24-hour breath to take. Arkansas has attained its highest ranking since 1978, forced itself into the periphery of the national title discussion against the longest of odds and notched its first back-to-back 10-win seasons since the program was cast into the sausage grinder known as the Southeastern Conference.

For many of us, this is the impossible dream, the one that seemed so laughingly distant when Jack Crowe was summarily excused after losing to The Citadel, when Danny Ford muddled through four tepid seasons or when Houston Nutt cruelly teased us for a whole decade. We have sniffed relevancy but never breathed it in deeply.

Many of our memories are those of ignominy, frankly, and it's this fact that engendered our culture of masochism. It seems pointless to recount failures, but what the hell, here are a few: In 1991, in the Razorbacks' last official act as a Southwest Conference program, Wade Hill chucked five picks in an Independence Bowl loss to Georgia. When the program seemed to find renewed footing in the late 1990s, a 43-point humiliation at the hands of Tennessee in 2000 coldly imparted perspective. And all this long while, consistency was elusive, as every solid season in this rugged league (6-2 in 1995, 6-2 in 1998, 7-1 in 2006) was followed by a clunker (2-6, 4-4 and 4-4, respectively) that Monty Hall could have stuck behind Door No. 3 and foisted on some Midwestern retiree with a beehive hairdo and a pastel clutch.

As Arkansas readies for this monumental clash with LSU, a year after going to a BCS game, those scabs are fading. Tyler Wilson has thrown as many interceptions in 385 attempts over 11 games as Hill did on that frigid day in Shreveport 20 years ago. The Hogs beat the Vols by 42 on Nov. 12, turning tables on the team that once regularly treated them like a porcine piñata. For the first time since Kenny Hatfield shepherded a Grovey-led team to consecutive Cotton Bowls, Arkansas has registered a winning record in conference play in back-to-back years.

As a result, things are no longer looking up, a credo we'd oft repeat summer to summer, usually without specificity or even honest justification. Things are up.

Do not mistake this for an advance pardon if the Razorbacks succumb to the Tigers after Thanksgiving leftovers and liquor are settling in the gut. To be quite fair, this has been a weighty few days, what with the sorrow of reserve tight end Garrett Uekman's passing dampening the mood. No one can project how that kind of awful event will affect the psyche of the collective, and it is certainly folly for some wag cranking out verbiage on an iPad screen to even try. So I won't.

What I know is that Arkansas is as well equipped as any team in recent history to buck this serially corrupt excuse for a system, which purportedly is so foolproof that even an LSU loss might not completely obliterate the Bengal hopes. No Knile Davis, no Ryan Mallett and a far-from-recovered Greg Childs have forced Bobby Petrino and Garrick McGee to retool in 2011, but not overhaul. The offense was crisp in the 44-17 rout of Mississippi State, and the defense provided further evidence that it may be the third-best in the conference, a startling fact for as maligned as it has been.

LSU naturally cannot and will not overlook the Razorbacks this year, which it arguably did in 2007 and almost paid dearly for. Les Miles receives so much grief for his quirkiness that it's utterly unfair. The man gets results from his charges, recruits fiendishly and, most importantly, wins games just like these more often than not. And this team has been so improved offensively, with largely unchanged personnel from 2010, that it merits attention.

But even in view of that, disowning these Hogs now seems foolhardy. On a weekend when Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Oregon all likely bowed out of the title hunt, Arkansas's mojo went from simmer to raging boil.

In short? Win it for Garrett. Arkansas 34, LSU 27.

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