By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette was reminded earlier this week of the milestones the Razorbacks can reach in Little Rock today.
They could finish 7-0 in home games, completing the program’s first perfect season in Arkansas since 1999. The Razorbacks can run their win streak in War Memorial Stadium to 10 games, too, ensuring none of the current seniors experienced a loss in Little Rock. And Arkansas can wrap up consecutive 10-win seasons for the third time in school history and first since joining the Southeastern Conference.
But Bequette, who is playing for the final time in his hometown today, didn’t want to hear it.
"It’s ‘if’ we win Saturday," Bequette said Monday. "That’s the key. We can’t count our chickens before they hatch. We’ve got to keep coming to practice with the same mindset we’ve had all year, which is very dedicated, practicing hard throughout the week very physically and just getting ready to play."
BCS No. 6 Arkansas (9-1, 5-1 in SEC) has a lot on the line when it plays Mississippi State (5-5, 1-5) today at 2:30 in War Memorial Stadium.
It’s not just about win streaks, unbeaten home records and single-season victory totals.
Mississippi State also is the only team still standing in Arkansas’ way of a much-anticipated showdown with top-ranked LSU. The mouth-watering matchup has been the buzz of the state — and is picking up steam nationally — with SEC and national title implications potentially at stake next week.
But Arkansas, as always, has done its best to temper the talk and concentrate on the immediate task — beating the Bulldogs in the final home game.
"Everyone is aware of what is going on," Petrino said. "That’s what motivates you. That’s what drives you. But in saying that, then you have to focus in your task at hand. I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve got good leadership. I think that’s the key is we’ve got good leadership from within."
To accomplish the goal, Arkansas must get past a Mississippi State team still searching for a signature win this season. The Bulldogs — who were regarded as a darkhorse in the SEC West when the season began — have disappointed in conference games with losses to Auburn (41-34), South Carolina (14-12) LSU (19-6), Georgia (24-10) and Alabama (24-7).
So today’s game is the last chance for the Bulldogs to knock off a ranked team this season.
But that’s not the only reason it’s a big game for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State also will be playing on CBS for the first time since the 2003 season.
"You love these type of games," MSU cornerback Corey Broomfield said. "I’ve been telling coach (Melvin) Smith that I’ve been here four years and we’ve finally going to be on CBS. I’ve been waiting to be on CBS since I’ve been here. That’s why you sign to come to the SEC; to play against a top 10 team at 2:30 on national television. You can’t beat it."
Arkansas has dominated the series in recent years, grabbing 11 wins in 12 tries. But the Razorbacks know wins against the Bulldogs rarely come easy.
The current group lost in 2008, when MSU knocked Arkansas out of bowl contention during Petrino’s first season. Arkansas also needed two overtimes to continue its late-season march last November.
"When you see Mississippi State, you see a team that plays very fast and very physically, and they play very hard," Bequette said. "You can’t say that about everyone, but they’re one of those teams that always do that no matter what their record is.
"They’ve always been hungry."
If Arkansas wins, it will secure the 11th 10-win season in school history. Petrino also would become the fourth Arkansas coach to accomplish the feat more than once, joining Frank Broyles (four 10-win seasons), Lou Holtz (two) and Ken Hatfield (three).
Petrino said it would signal a "good season" for the Razorbacks as they move into the finale.
"We’ve been through the battles all year long," Petrino said. "I think what it shows is a lot of commitment. It shows a tremendous amount of competitive spirit on our football team and guys that just kept working, you know? Kept competing.
"It goes by fast. The season always goes by quick and you take a quick peek back and say this game was close, this game was close, but we really found ways to win games. I really like the way we’ve played the last two weeks. We’re starting to play the game the way we thought we would all year long."
Arkansas doesn’t want it to end today, though. So the Hogs said any anticipation regarding a potential top 10 matchup against LSU must wait for a few hours.
Guard Grant Cook said the senior class — which will play its final home games — and the rest of the Hogs know their efforts better be on beating the Bulldogs.
"We can’t fall asleep on a team like this," Cook said. "We have to come at them like every team in the SEC or they can come in your backyard and beat you."