By HARRY KING
LITTLE ROCK — Razorback fans with reservations about the Ole Miss game are haunted by the same refrain, one based on perception more than reality.
"Houston always wins one he’s not supposed to win," they say while knowing full well that Arkansas is better than Houston Nutt’s Rebels and should win handily.
Pressed for evidence, they will usually cite 28-24 over No. 3 Tennessee in 1999 or 38-28 over No. 5 Texas in 2003 or 27-10 over No. 2 Auburn in 2006 or 50-48 over No. 1 LSU in 2007 or Ole Miss 31-30 over No. 4 Florida in 2008.
Those "upsets" merit a closer look.
For starters, each of those Arkansas teams won eight games or more, including 10 in a row and a Western Division championship by the ‘06 group. This Ole Miss team would have to win out to get to eight victories and that won’t happen.
On top of that, the 2006 and 2007 Razorbacks had future NFL running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Mississippi’s best running back is senior Brandon Bolden, who is returning after a one-game suspension, but whose season-long totals are 23 carries for 105 yards. Jeff Scott has carried 75 times for 361, but he won’t be confused with McFadden, Jones or Hillis.
Regarding the ‘08 upset of eventual national champion Florida, that was the day that the Gators turned the ball over three times and Tim Tebow apologized for poor passes, a costly fumble and a fourth-down failure. Like the Arkansas teams that won, the Rebels were talented, finishing second in the Western Division and knocking off No. 8 Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
The point is that none of those five victories was out of the blue. Beating Arkansas today would be a fluke — no way it can happen unless Arkansas contributes mightily to the Ole Miss cause.
Sure, the Rebels might run the ball with some success. But, quarterback Randall Mackey is not a sufficient passing threat to keep the Razorbacks from crowding the line of scrimmage. Auburn ran into the same thing a couple of weeks ago in Fayetteville because Barrett Trotter, since demoted, could not complete a pass when needed.
The third quarterback to start for the Rebels this season, Mackey is 18-of-39 in the last two games. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson will be more productive than that during the first three quarters today.
Compounding the problem, Nutt booted junior wide receiver Melvin Harris off the team this week.
Not only is Arkansas far more talented than the Rebels, the Razorbacks are fresh after a week off while Mississippi is recuperating from a 52-7 beating by Alabama. During that game, Ole Miss cornerback Marcus Temple and defensive end Wayne Dorsey suffered season-ending injuries. Even prior to those injuries, the Rebels’ defense was the worst in the Southeastern Conference.
Arkansas is 5-1, No. 9 in the BCS standings, and looking square at 10-1. Ole Miss is 2-4 with victories over (2-4) Southern Illinois and (3-4) Fresno State.
Take all that into consideration and there is no reasonable argument to justify picking the Rebels.
Nutt might get his players hyped up with some pre-game plea, but emotion only lasts so long, particularly when the opponent is superior and moving the ball at will. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, there should be no doubt about the outcome.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.