Given all that's on the line in this Friday's Battle for the Boot, it's hard to imagine that just three short years ago the Arkansas-LSU game had nothing more at stake for the Hogs than a 5-7 record and a little extra momentum going into the following season. Now, with the Petrino Era in full swing the Razorbacks are ranked #3 and, if certain esoteric factors break their way, playing for a potential national championship berth. It feels kind of crazy to even type those words.
Unfortunately, the reality is that even if the Hogs pull off the upset, they'll be facing an uphill battle to wind up in the title game or, at minimum, BCS bowl they deserve, and one huge reason for that is the way they're perceived nationally. To put it bluntly, the Razorbacks aren't yet a program with the national reputation or aura of an Alabama or LSU (or even Auburn or Tennessee). Those teams have already won titles and big bowls, and are known for taking care of business in the games that really matter. For people outside the state, Arkansas remains solidly in the pack of teams that may pop up in the top 10 radar every few years, but can never quite get over the hump to the point where they get the benefit of the doubt in things like the minds of poll voters or media coverage.
Having said that, I firmly believe that's it possible for Arkansas to become one of those teams, and the last couple of seasons prove conclusively that we're getting ever closer to that status. What's the shortest path to getting there? Win on Friday! We've knocked at the door before but have come up short - heartbreaking losses to Florida in 2006 or Tennessee in 1998 come to mind. A victory against LSU would be a perfect springboard to lead the program to the proverbial next level.
Think about it...*everybody* is going to be watching this game. There will literally be millions of fans around the country who haven't seen the Hogs play a down all season but will tune in as they digest their Thanksgiving leftovers to see what all the fuss is about. It's an enormous stage, and an incredible opportunity to shape the perception of the program among fans, media members and recruits. If they see what we've all seen the last few weeks - incredible skill and athleticism on offense, an opportunistic defense, excellent special teams, exciting play-calling - they're going to be impressed. Very impressed. And that will only lead to more big things in the coming seasons.
The focus on Friday will be on the action on the field, of course, and to a slightly lesser extent its immediate impact on the on the BCS standings. That alone makes the game hugely important. But as you watch, don't forget to look beyond this season at the big picture. This is the Hogs' moment. A perfect chance to make a statement, to take a leap, to climb the ladder toward the upper echelon of college football. The fact that the Razorbacks even have that opportunity just three years after the 2008 game is impressive...the fact that they have a decent shot to actually do it is amazing. Whatever happens, this game is as big as we've seen in a very long time.
Woo pig sooie!