FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas won’t be going to a bowl game this winter, missing out on postseason play for the second straight year.
Senior Julian Horton is disappointed. He and the rest of the Razorbacks had much higher aspirations for coach Bret Bielema’s first season. But he said Arkansas doesn’t have any plans to treat the 2013 season as if it’s over.
“It’s about pride,” Horton said when asked about Arkansas’ motivation with a bowl game out of the picture. “We’ve got to have pride in what we do. … We’ve got to keep building each and every week and be motivated for these last two games.
Pride is about all Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 in Southeastern Conference) has left to play for after suffering its seventh straight loss at Ole Miss last Saturday. The 34-24 loss secured a losing record for the second straight season, leaving a sour taste around the program as it began another bye week with Tuesday’s practice.
The seven-game losing streak means Arkansas has two games left in 2013 before beginning the long offseason. It will play Mississippi State in Little Rock on Nov. 23, then travel to play at LSU in the season finale on Nov. 29.
Running back Korliss Marshall said the reality wouldn’t alter Arkansas’ approach when it returns to the field in two weeks.
“I feel like we still have something to play for, even if we don’t have the opportunity to go to a bowl game,” Marshall said after the Ole Miss loss last Saturday. “There’s no reason for us to just throw two extra games away.”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hopes the rest of his team agrees with Marshall.
“We’ve got two games to show what kind of pride we have,” Bielema said.
It’s an unusual position for Bielema, who guided his Wisconsin teams to a bowl game in every season dating back to 2005. He left the Badgers last winter after leading them to the Rose Bowl for the third straight season.
But Arkansas’ reclamation project has been more difficult than imagined.
Its tumble has reached historical levels as well as the losses continue to mount.
The Razorbacks equaled the school’s longest losing streak with its seventh straight defeat last Saturday. They also dropped their 10th straight conference game dating back to last season, which is the second longest streak in school history (20 straight Southwest Conference games between the 1940 and 1943 seasons).
If that’s not enough, the 2013 Razorbacks also became just the fourth team in the 99 years Arkansas has been affiliated with a conference to be 0-6 in league play (1941, 1942 and 1990). The 1941 and 1942 Razorbacks were the only teams in school history to go through conference seasons without wins, finishing 0-6. Arkansas must win to avoid becoming the first Arkansas team to lose nine games in a season.
Avoiding that dubious distinction is one of many motivations for the Razorbacks.
“We’re playing for everything,” Arkansas safety Alan Turner said. “Of course we’re going to play for the seniors because we don’t want the seniors to go out like this so we’ve got to try to win these last two games. But also, we’re playing for the guys that are going to be back next year. So we can just establish ourselves for next year.”
Bielema said he’s disappointed his team won’t get to go through bowl practices, which allows for an additional month of work on the field. It’s a luxury, especially for programs like Arkansas that could use the practice time as it builds.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the early end wouldn’t change the Razorbacks’ motivation as they prepare for the final stretch of the season.
“That’s what we all do,” Chaney said. “That’s what I’ve chosen as my profession, so there’s never a throw-away ballgame. Every ballgame counts, every play counts. And I do believe our kids understand that. … In classes you have six or seven exams, as coaches we have 12 exams and you want to do as good as you possibly can on those exams.”
Chaney believes the Razorbacks will continue to compete even though the countdown to the season’s end is underway. So does Horton, who was part of Bobby Petrino teams that went 21-5 over a two-year stretch in 2010 and 2011.
The Razorbacks are disappointed they won’t be playing in a bowl game once again, but understand there are two important opportunities left in the 2013 season.
“We’re being prideful about our program,” Horton said. “We are Arkansas, and we’re trying to get back to the way we used to be. Each and every week we’re trying to get better and keep being motivated to go out there and get wins.”