FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson knows the Razorbacks have no more room for error. No chance for a mulligan if things don’t go as planned.
He can do the math: Arkansas is 10 games into its 2012 season and has lost six times. So one more stumble will secure the Razorbacks’ first losing record since 2008, eliminating any hope of reaching a bowl game this season.
It’s a precarious position, but Wilson said Arkansas remains confident it will perform with its back against the wall the next two weeks.
“You can talk about percentages and chances all you want,” Wilson said Monday. “But we’ve got two games left and I think we can win both of them.”
Arkansas’ season, for all intents and purposes, already is over. It ended back in September, when a 1-4 start helped the Razorbacks secure their spot as one of the season’s biggest disappointments. But through the frustrations and troubles, Arkansas has been clinging to one goal as it navigated through the rest of the season.
Just get to six wins. Extend the year a little longer.
So the Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4 in SEC) haven’t given up on the possibility as they step into their final road game today at Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 in SEC). The Bulldogs started 7-0, but have stumbled with consecutive losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU the past three outings. While Mississippi State remains the favorite for today’s game, Arkansas believes it will be at its best with bowl hopes on the line.
“We know we have these two weeks guaranteed to us,” Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “We just want to make the most of that.”
Arkansas can, at least, carry a successful history into today’s game. The Razorbacks have won 12 of the past 13 games in the series, including last year’s 44-17 win in Little Rock and a 38-31 two-overtime victory in Starkville two years ago.
Times have changed since then, of course. Mississippi State has been more dangerous on offense with junior Tyler Russell settled in at quarterback and its improved confidence on defense. Arkansas, meanwhile, has struggled to string together a complete performance on either side of the ball because of a myriad of mistakes that have led to loss after loss this season.
Wilson said those must end if Arkansas hopes to win its final road game.
“We’ve got to take pride in knowing every little thing about our position and that’s me included,” Wilson said. “That’s the difference between winning and losing. If we do that we’ve got a great chance to win both these games coming up.”
Mississippi State, meanwhile, is trying to get back on track after struggling through its three-game losing streak. The opponents — all teams currently ranked among the top eight of this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings — certainly didn’t help. But the Bulldogs still have plenty to prove as well after compiling its three SEC wins against teams that are 0-20 in conference play.
“We had some bad breaks the last couple of games,” Russell said. “We made some mistakes. But we're creating those mistakes and fixing them.
“A few years ago, two years ago, if we lost three games in a row, everybody at practice would be down and it just wouldn't be a good mood. Now, it's like, OK, we've got to get back to work. You've got to work harder. If you messed up in practice last week, don't mess up on the same thing. You've got to keep improving.”
Mississippi State can reach the eight-win mark for the second time in three seasons and 16th time in school history. It could help the Bulldogs put themselves in better position in the SEC’s bowl pecking order as they celebrate senior day for a group that has been vital to the program’s growth under Dan Mullen.
“They have been one of the more successful classes in school history,” Mullen said. “So it's a great day, the last chance to play at home and it be emotional for all those kids. And on top of it being such a big game for us, it will be a great day.”
Arkansas is just working to reach a bowl. Any bowl. It’s something the 2008 team couldn’t accomplish in Starkville. The 31-28 loss was the Razorbacks seventh of the season, keeping Bobby Petrino’s first Arkansas team home for the holidays.
Wilson said the Razorbacks are all aware of what it will take to avoid it this time after suffering their sixth loss of the season at South Carolina last Saturday. The Hogs have to beat Mississippi State today. Then LSU next Friday.
Anything less will end the 2012 season in Fayetteville next week.
“Six is the number,” Wilson said. “We all know that.”