LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -Bobby Petrino is back in the Southeastern Conference - and the rest of the league sure looks ready for him.
There are a record five SEC teams in the AP top 10 this week, and Petrino's Arkansas team plays three of them in the next four weeks. The other opponent? No. 7 Texas.
``Yeah, it's a good stretch,'' Petrino said, not wanting to look too far ahead. ``We just need to concentrate on Alabama.''
The Razorbacks host the ninth-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday in Fayetteville, but that's only the beginning. Arkansas then travels to play Texas on Sept. 27 in a game that was moved from last weekend because of Hurricane Ike. The Longhorns are currently No. 7.
Arkansas starts October by hosting No. 4 Florida, then plays at No. 10 Auburn.
``It's the SEC. You've got to be able to look forward to this and just say, 'Bring it on.' It's exciting,'' Arkansas safety Matt Harris said. ``We knew we had it coming for the past eight months, so we're not worried or scared about anything.''
According to Stats LLC, Auburn was the only team since 1996 to play four consecutive top 10 opponents, and the Tigers did it over a 9 1/2-month span. Auburn finished the 2002 season against No. 7 Georgia, No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Penn State, then opened the following season against No. 8 Southern California.
Petrino was Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2002. He's now in his first season as Arkansas' coach, and the Razorbacks won their first two games by a combined five points over Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas is rebuilding a bit after losing running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones to the NFL.
``Change is hard on everybody, and particularly seniors. They've been accustomed to the way you do things,'' Petrino said. ``So now they have to make a change and get used to practicing different - different emphasis, different meetings. They've got to work at buying in.''
There have been some growing pains, but senior quarterback Casey Dick is progressing nicely. Against Louisiana-Monroe two weekends ago, Dick threw for 323 yards, Michael Smith rushed for 157 and D.J. Williams added 124 yards receiving.
That was a first for the Arkansas program - a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game.
to have off in the middle of this rough four-game stretch.
``It's tough to switch gears like we did and just drop everything and now prepare for Alabama,'' Dick said.
At this point, the opponents are all difficult and it won't be much easier late in the season. Arkansas hosts Mississippi and former Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt on Oct. 25, then takes on a dangerous Tulsa team the following weekend. The Hogs finish the regular season against LSU the day after Thanksgiving.
No conference has had five top-10 teams before - LSU is ranked No. 6 this week. The other SEC team in the top 10 is No. 3 Georgia, which is not on Arkansas' schedule.
With their SEC opener coming up, the Razorbacks will try to improve quickly. They needed late fourth-down conversions to win each of their first two games.
Harris takes solace in his team's poise under pressure, and the weekend off made him restless.
``We've been ready to play big-time football for a while now,'' Harris said.
Now's your chance, Matt. The preseason is over. Nothing but huge games for the next month.
``This is the national stage right here,'' Harris said. ``We want to go out there and show everyone else - we want to put fear into other people right now. We're going to go into Texas. We want Texas to say, 'Well, they stopped a really good Alabama team.'
``It's all about a respect that you want to set for yourselves around the nation, and we're earning respect week in and week out.''
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