It began as a routine play but turned into a disastrous one. Now, as Clint Stoerner knows better than anyone, it's regarded as the play, the one that could define his college football career.
"It was hard for me to swallow as a person," said the Arkansas quarterback who fumbled away the ball -- and with it, the Razorbacks' national title hopes -- with two minutes left against Tennessee last season. "But it was just a game. It was one play and so I have to live with it."
But maybe not for long. Unlike most others who are forever confronted with their infamous gaffes, Stoerner has a second chance. A senior now, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is back, and he and his teammates are bent on atoning for their mistakes of 1998.
In case you were wondering, Tennessee visits Fayetteville, Ark., on Nov. 13. Not that Stoerner didn't know already.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to that one," he said. "That game is marked on my schedule."
Problem is, last year's 9-3 season made the Razorbacks marked men as well. No longer do they have a 4-7 mark to hide behind as they did in 1998.
Arkansas, picked last before last season, has been tabbed by many to win the Southeastern Conference's West division this season.
"We probably did sneak up on people last year," said second-year coach Houston Nutt, whose Razorbacks hadn't been picked to win the division since they joined the SEC in 1992. "Nobody gave us a chance."
All that has changed thanks to the return of Stoerner and a glittering stable of skill players on offense. Back are receivers Anthony Lucas, a preseason All-SEC pick, and Michael Williams, who pulled in 43 receptions for 55 yards last season.
Senior tailback Chrys Chukwuma and his 5.8 yards per carry return as well, as does 6-foot, 234-pound fullback Nathan Norman.
But will the holes be there? The offensive line is gone, with the exception of right tackle Bobby Williams (6-4, 325 pounds).
"They're probably a little more athletic group than last year," Nutt said of the offensive front. "The've got just one problem: They haven't been out there yet."
Of smaller concern is the defense, which returns seven players from a unit that held opponents to 16.5 points per game last season. The Hogs appear faster than ever, thanks largely to the return of senior free safety and noted head-hunter Kenoy Kennedy.
"He hits you so hard he'll knock your helmet off," Nutt said. "And that's hard to do with these chin straps."
Sept. 4 at Southern Methodist
Sept. 18 Northeast Louisiana
Sept. 25 at Alabama
Oct. 2 at Kentucky
Oct. 9 Middle Tennessee State
Oct. 16 South Carolina
Oct. 30 Auburn
Nov. 6 at Mississippi
Nov. 13 Tennessee
Nov. 20 Mississippi State
Nov. 27 at Louisiana State
Larry Williams covers college sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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