Raising the bar: Hogs eager to stack up against nation's best

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, October 2, 2016
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema walks the sideline with Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema walks the sideline with Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

— The No. 1 team in college football is coming to Reynolds Razorback Stadium to take on Arkansas.

Must be Alabama week.

The No. 1 Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) and No. 16 Razorbacks (4-1, 0-1) play at 6 p.m. Saturday in a game that is sold out and will be televised nationally by ESPN.

It's the fifth time Arkansas has played Alabama when the Tide is ranked No. 1 and fourth time since 2010.

The Razorbacks have lost all of those previous No. 1 matchups and have a nine-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide — dropping every game since Nick Saban became Alabama's coach in 2007.

Alabama was No. 1 when it beat Arkansas 10-3 on Jan. 1, 1962, in the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1961 season.

Arkansas twice has come close to beating Saban's Tide, with both games in Fayetteville. Alabama escaped 24-20 in 2010 and 14-13 in 2014.

"It's a huge game," Arkansas cornerback Henre' Toliver said after the Razorbacks beat Alcorn State 52-10 in Little Rock. "It's Alabama and we want to beat them really badly.

"We have a tremendous opportunity, and with opportunity comes huge responsibility. So we all have a job to do. We have to practice extremely hard this week."

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema is 0-3 against Alabama and Saban.

"I prefer winning," Bielema said when asked if he enjoys matching up with Saban. "But I have a tremendous respect for Nick."

Saban has led the Tide to national championships in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

"He's obviously kind of set the bar here in the SEC as of late," Bielema said. "You love the competition and the preparation and you just have a general admiration for him.

"Nick's really good, but those 11 other guys on the field are pretty good. They come in big sizes and usually extra wide as well. So it's a difficult task.

"Like I told our players in the locker room, there's going to be 11 players for them, there's going to be 11 players for us, and whoever plays better is the one that usually wins.

"We've got to play a four-quarter game. They're a tremendous football team."

Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen smiled when asked about the habit many players have of saying they approach every game the same, no matter the opponent.

"You can say that all you want, but it's not true," Allen said. "It's Alabama.

"We've got to have a great week preparation and really step it up and play well."

Bielema has experienced beating a No. 1 team as a head coach, when his No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers beat top-ranked Ohio State 31-18 at home in 2010.

Arkansas is playing a home game as a ranked team against a ranked opponent for the first time since 2011 when the No. 8 Razorbacks beat No. 10 South Carolina 44-28.

"I think we'll have a live crowd show up that'll be ready to rock and roll," Bielema said. "I'm sure they'll be some healthy tailgating before that should get that crowd pretty riled up."

Arkansas is 4-17 all-time against No. 1 teams, last beating one in 2007 with a 50-48 triple-overtime victory at LSU in Houston Nutt's last game as the Razorbacks' coach.

Arkansas beat No. 1 Texas teams in 1964, 1965 and 1981.

"We've got a great team, but we've got to have our best week of practice this week and play our best against Alabama," Arkansas receiver Jared Cornelius said. "We're looking for a packed house to try to take down the No. 1 team in the nation.

"We're ready to go. We've got some motivation and we've got some confidence going into this game."

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