FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is down to its final week of the 2013 season.
So when Arkansas coach Bret Bielema gathered his struggling team Sunday afternoon, he stressed the importance of enjoying every remaining moment.
"We’ve got six days together," Bielema said, looking back on what he told his team Sunday. "We’ve got six days that this room is going to be the exact same that it is right now. After that, the seniors will leave us. You never know what happens within a year, so let’s embrace these six days, have fun with it, try to make the most of a very difficult situation and be something that you can remember for a lifetime."
Arkansas (3-8, 0-7 in Southeastern Conference) hasn’t had much to smile about in its long and disappointing season, but aims to make the end memorable as it prepares for the season finale at No. 15 LSU (8-3, 4-3 in SEC) on Friday.
The Razorbacks carry a school-record eight-game losing streak into their annual battle for the Golden Boot. The latest — an overtime loss to Mississippi State — helped Arkansas secure its place at the bottom of the SEC West standings and has the Hogs dangerously close to their first winless conference season since 1952.
Bielema told his team he didn’t want them thinking about the mounting woes, though, in what will be remembered as one of the worst seasons in the program’s history. He said there’s not enough time during a short week. Instead, Arkansas has shifted its concentration to what it could accomplish in its final opportunity at LSU.
"If we spend one more day being negative or thinking about what’s been happening in the past, we’re not going to capitalize on this opportunity," Bielema said. "With a shortened week, it allowed us to maybe kind of turn the page a little bit quicker."
The game will be the last Thanksgiving week meeting between the Razorbacks and Tigers, who have closed the regular season against each other since Arkansas entered the SEC in 1992. LSU will move on to a Thanksgiving showdown with Texas A&M in 2014, while Arkansas will begin another border rivalry with Missouri.
There have been plenty of memorable Thanksgiving week games between LSU and Arkansas, including the Razorbacks’ 31-30 win during Bobby Petrino’s first season with the program. The Razorbacks didn’t reach a bowl that season, but the victory helped give Arkansas plenty of momentum as it moved into the offseason.
The odds of it happening once again aren’t good, considering Arkansas’ obvious struggles this season. But receiver Julian Horton said the Razorbacks remain motivated to wrap up the season with a one memorable performance.
"This team is prideful about stuff," Horton said after the MSU loss. "We fought (LSU) really well last year even though we were having a bad season. We’ve got to be prideful about it and try to get that (Golden) Boot back."
Arkansas hasn’t beaten LSU since the 2010 season, when a 31-23 victory in Little Rock pushed the Razorbacks into its first Bowl Championship Series game.
Arkansas’ senior class — which includes players like Horton, center Travis Swanson, safety Eric Bennett, defensive end Chris Smith, receiver Javontee Herndon and defensive tackle Byran Jones — were members of the 2010 team.
It’s a distant memory, but the seniors aren’t dwelling on what could have been now.
"It’s been very difficult, but I feel like (this) week we’ve got to come out and try to make a statement," Smith said. "We’re battling through adversity. Some guys would have quit a long time ago, and we just keep fighting. We say tomorrow is a new day."
Arkansas isn’t happy with the way the 2013 season has gone.
But they want to make the final week something worth remembering.
"They’ve persevered a ton, and just like I told them after the game, I said, ‘Hey, sometimes guys you work your tail off and you don’t get paid. Life isn’t fair,’" Arkansas cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "We’re learning some life lessons here. All of us are. And the one thing those guys do, they come to work every day.
"It’s been frustrating, as you can imagine, but they don’t dwell on it, we don’t allow them to dwell on it, what’s happened. We don’t make any excuses. We don’t allow them to, and I think that’s what’s kept us going every week."