By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive end Damario Ambrose couldn’t think of anything more meaningful Wednesday.
The senior has been on campus for some time now, playing his first game in 2007. He was on the field when Arkansas shocked top-ranked LSU at the end of that regular season. There, too, when the Razorbacks came frustratingly close to toppling Florida in the Swamp last fall.
But when the senior searched his memory to find a game with as much at stake for the Razorbacks than this afternoon’s, it’s no surprise he found nothing comparable.
"This is one of the reasons why you come to the (Southeastern Conference)," Ambrose said. "If we win this game, we’re basically in the driver’s seat for the SEC and maybe even the national championship. ... The winner of this game could possibly win a national championship."
Ambrose’s national title talk may be a bit premature less than a month into the season, but you get the idea.
There’s no shortage of anticipation — or confidence — for No. 10 Arkansas (3-0, 1-0 in SEC) as it steps on the big stage against top-ranked Alabama (3-0, 0-0) today at 2:30.
Nothing has meant this much to the Razorbacks on the field since 2006, when Arkansas battled Florida in the SEC Championship Game. And nothing has inspired more buildup in Fayetteville since 1969, when No. 1 ranked Texas beat No. 2 Arkansas in what is known as the "Game of the Century."
It means the Razorbacks are in the spotlight for the first time since coach Bobby Petrino’s arrival, boasting a top 10 ranking after beating Georgia last Saturday. While no one on the roster has experienced the type of attention it has created before this week began, it’s something the Razorbacks have been building toward the past three years.
"When we all decided to come to the University of Arkansas – coaches and players – we had this in mind," Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. "We’re in the Top 10. They’re the No. 1 team in the nation. We’re going to compete right here in Razorback Stadium. The Razorback nation will be in full effect. We know that.
"This is what we dreamed about."
Getting the opportunity is one thing.
Taking advantage of it is another story.
On that end, Arkansas believes it has what it takes to beat the Crimson Tide. Nevermind the fact it has lost two straight to Alabama by a combined score of 84-21.
Arkansas said last season’s loss at Alabama, a 35-7 embarrassment, was a turning point for the program. Petrino made it clear after the game his team didn’t really believe it could win and vowed there would be a change.
He has noticed it since. Especially this week after telling his team it won’t take anything "extraordinary" to beat the Crimson Tide.
"I feel like we’re very confident going into the game," Petrino said. "We know it’s going to be a battle. We know it’s going to be hard-fought. There’s going to be times we do things well. There’s going to be times they do things well. That’s where you’ve got to just stay in there and be mentally tough and keep playing and play to the end and believe you can win the game in the fourth quarter.
"I think our guys are mature and ready to do it."
Of course, Alabama has something else on its mind as it pushes for a third straight win against Arkansas.
The Crimson Tide rolled offensively through three games and has run its regular season win streak to 27. It has won 16 straight conference games in that stretch.
"We want to leave no doubt every time we step out on the field," quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Coach (Nick Saban) has made that clear many times. We want to be a dominant team in the SEC. ... Some people might use being dominant as bulletin board material, but that is our mindset, and it has been pretty successful for us up to this point."
But one thing is certain: Arkansas doesn’t sound like it will be intimidated about Alabama again.
"I mean, it’s just a number," Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love said of Alabama’s ranking. "The No. 1 ranking, that’s good. But any team can get beat on any day. So I feel like them having a No. 1 ranking, that’s saluting them. But we’re going to come out, play football and come at them."
It will be the first time Arkansas has had a No. 1 team on its home turf in Fayetteville since 1996, when Florida rolled over the Razorbacks 42-7. It’s also the first time top 10 teams have met here since No. 6 Houston’s 13-10 win against the fourth-ranked Razorbacks in 1979.
Because of it, there’s a palpable buzz on campus. Students began camping outside the stadium in tents Monday. By Thursday, the street was filled with more than 100 in a scene that better resembled a weekend music festival.
Arkansas’ athletic program has fed into the anticipation, too, joining with the school’s student government to encourage fans to wear red today for a so-called "Red Out."
"The atmosphere, no doubt, is going to be crazy," Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said.
Cornerback Ramon Broadway shrugged off any notion it is putting added pressure on Arkansas, though.
No, none of the Razorbacks have played in a game with so much at stake. But Broadway said they’re enjoying the spotlight and, most importantly, are ready to produce.
"There’s no pressure. I think a lot of people are thinking it’s all pressure with us," Broadway said. "We’re not under pressure. Everybody in that stadium believes what we’re going to do. All behind those doors we believe that. So it don’t matter what nobody else believes.
"We believe that we’re going to control this game."
No. 1 Alabama (3-0, 0-0 in SEC) at No. 10 Arkansas (3-0, 1-0)
When: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Satellite Radio: Sirius (Ch. 219), XM (Ch. 200)
Series Record: Alabama leads 9-3
Last Meeting: Alabama 35, Arkansas 7 in 2009
Coaches: Arkansas — Bobby Petrino (16-12 in third season); Alabama — Nick Saban (31-8 in fourth season)