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Monday, January 3, 2011
Arkansas enjoying Sugar Bowl shadows

By Brian Bennett

NEW ORLEANS -- Arkansas is participating in its first-ever BCS game. But normalcy seems to be the prevailing theme for the Razorbacks.

While Allstate Sugar Bowl opponent Ohio State dealt with the swirls of controversy regarding the suspensions of five players and its decision to let them play in the bowl, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino must have just smiled. His team has stayed out of the headlines and has arguably received less media attention than any BCS team so far this postseason.

That's just fine with Petrino. Let the Buckeyes hog the spotlight in this one. His Hogs can just go to work. Petrino is trying to keep as much of a regular-season routine as possible, including moving the team into a new hotel on Monday night to simulate its Friday night in-season experience.

"I think our players have done a nice job of keeping their focus and doing a good job in meetings, doing a good job on the practice field," Petrino said Monday morning at the head coaches' news conference.

Petrino's half hour in front of the media was much drier than that of Ohio State's Jim Tressel, an accomplishment that's not easy to produce. Petrino is no stranger to bowl-week distractions. At Louisville, his constant dalliances with other jobs -- once memorably meeting with LSU on his way to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl -- created off-the-field intrigue. But Petrino recently signed a seven-year contract extension, and even with NFL jobs popping open this week, he's mostly out of the coaching rumor mill.

"It's great," he said. "We wanted to try to get it done as quick as we possibly could, so we all understood the commitments that are there on both sides. It's been a lot of fun to know that we're going to continue to build this program the way that we want to."

Arkansas might not be generating a ton of buzz, but the Hogs played as well as anybody down the stretch while winning their final six games and averaging more than 42 points per game in the process. This is the first time in the BCS, but the team played at No. 1 Auburn this year and in high-profile games against Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

"We go on the road and all the big stages that we play on, all the loud crowds and hostile environments, I think certainly puts you on the same type of stage that we're going to be on [Tuesday] night," Petrino said. "As long as we can get to our comfort zone as quick as possible within the game and say, 'Hey, we know what this is about, we've been here before, it's just a different team,' I think we'll execute and play well."

Petrino said a Sugar Bowl win would mean the most for the seniors and give the Razorbacks a chance to enter next season ranked high in the polls. And perhaps they'll start to make these types of achievements and expectations feel normal.