By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams won’t forget the thrill of beating LSU in Little Rock in 2008.
Casey Dick-to-London Crawford has earned the moniker of Miracle on Markham II. It was the first big win for the Razorbacks under Bobby Petrino and a scintillating conclusion to a sub-par season. But more important, Williams said it was a defining moment for the Petrino-led Hogs.
"I think that game two years ago set our program in the right direction," Williams said. "It was the first year coach Petrino was here and we ended on a good note and we kept rolling ever since then. That was a big game."
So what does it mean now, two years later, as No. 12 Arkansas (9-2, 5-2 in Southeastern Conference) prepares to meet No. 6 LSU (10-1, 6-1) in Little Rock once again?
"I can’t keep emphasizing how important this game is to us and our whole state," Williams said.
Arkansas may not be playing for a spot in the SEC Championship Game (like the original Miracle on Markham in 2002) or to keep slim national title hopes alive (like the 2006 game) when it meets LSU in War Memorial Stadium today at 2:30. But rarely has the build-up to the regular-season finale felt so important to an entire state.
Arkansas, which has won five straight, has a chance to avenge losses to Auburn and Alabama by beating a top-10 team. In the process, the Razorbacks would reach the 10-win mark for just the second time since joining the SEC in 1992. They would make a final and impressive statement in ongoing hopes of landing an at-large spot in a BCS bowl, too.
"We are looking to get to 10 wins," Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett said. "Obviously we wanted to get to 12 before the regular season was out and that’s not feasible. But we are trying to get to 10 and wherever they put us is where we will go. But this is the biggest game of the season."
Representatives from two BCS games — the Sugar and Orange bowls — are scheduled to be in attendance today. So will representatives from the Capital One, Cotton and Chick-fil-A bowls — three of the SEC’s top bowl tie-ins.
LSU, which is trying to reach the 11-win mark for just the second time in the regular season in school history, would likely lock up an at-large spot in BCS bowl with a win.
Arkansas would keep its BCS hopes alive, but would need help from others before bowl assignments are announced.
Petrino said the Razorbacks understand what can be accomplished today. But Arkansas has also stressed all week it will only matter if they beat LSU.
"We all understand what’s at stake," Petrino said. "Yeah, we all know the scenarios. If it plays out right, we get to do this or we get to do that. But the main thing is, if we don’t go and play well, perform well, get one more point than they do on the scoreboard, nothing matters."
Arkansas-LSU has come down to one point at times in a series that has produced plenty of dramatic finishes.
In fact, the past five games have all been decided by five points or less. Two of those games went to overtime. And the combined score of the past three meetings is 111-111.
"I think it’s tremendously competitive," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday. "It’s a game both teams look forward to at the back end of the season. A very significant game.
"I think year in and year out it creates an environment where great plays and big plays are made."
This is the second season the game will be played on Saturday after being bumped from the Friday slot it by Auburn-Alabama. The day of the game has no bearing on its impact, though. Today’s game is just the fourth time both teams have been ranked and the first since 2006.
"It’s great for college football," Mallett said of the Arkansas-LSU series. "Thanksgiving weekend. Two great, nationally ranked teams. The past 10 years or so it’s been a final fourth-quarter game. It brings a lot of excitement."
It could bring a lot more to Arkansas, too, if things go as planned. A win would help the Razorbacks solidify their place as one of the SEC’s elite teams in 2010.
"It’s a way to end our regular season with a statement playing a great team like LSU," Williams said. "It’s going to be another showdown. We expect them to come in here and play a very good game because the past four years, that’s how it’s been. It’s going to be fun to be a part of."