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Failure marks foes

Just a few plays here and there, Michigan defensive end Juaquin Feazell lamented, and maybe the No. 15 Wolverines and the No. 11 Arkansas Razorbacks would be playing for much higher stakes than just a chance to win today's Citrus Bowl.

"It's only a couple of plays in a season that determine whether we could have been undefeated, or if they could have been," Michigan's senior defensive captain said. "Unfortunately, those things didn't happen for us or for them. We're not undefeated, and neither are they."

It's not that both teams aren't grateful to be in the amusement park capital of the world, to be in a major bowl game, to spend time in sunny Florida and to be feted by the locals as they prepare for today's 1 p.m. game on ABC.

It's just that both teams also have painful regrets.

For Michigan, the defense of its national title slipped from its fingers right from the start, a 36-20 opening loss to Notre Dame for the then-No. 5 ranked Wolverines. The next week Syracuse did it again, a 38-28 stunner that sent Michigan tumbling out of the national rankings.

After the Wolverines won eight of their next nine, Ohio State pulled the rug out from under their resurgence with a 31-16 drubbing.

Still, coach Lloyd Carr insisted, all that matters now for his 9-3 Big Ten co-champions is winning the Citrus Bowl.

"I'm interested in the present," he said. "I think what we're trying to do as a football team is to be the best that we can be. What we want is to finish this season in a way that we can be proud of what we've done."

For Arkansas, it was an implausible last-minute fumble by otherwise stalwart quarterback Clint Stoerner against No. 1 Tennessee on Nov. 14 that cost the then-undefeated Razorbacks a shot at entering the Bowl Championship Series picture.

A loss to Mississippi State the next week then cost them a berth in the SEC title game.

"I mean, I guess we were just five points away from playing for the national championship," senior guard Brandon Burlsworth said. "It's hard to explain that loss to have a game like that, the No. 1 team in the country, in front of 103,000 in Knoxville it just took the life out of us."

"Talk about a fluke," Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt said. "That fumble was something I never experienced before in my life.

"It was tough. You could tell during the next week we were in a fog. Probably it was pretty much my fault, because I didn't realize how big it was. I told them to just forget that game, but you can't do it. Every time they turned on the TV, they were showing that replay.

"But the way Clint finished the year, to me, to the team, showed character."

And this still has been a great season by Razorback standards. Nutt, in his first season, was voted coach of the year by the Football News for leading Arkansas to a 9-2 record after back-to-back 4-7 seasons.

Arkansas was picked to finish last again in the SEC West, but Nutt infused the team with an overwhelmingly positive attitudethat the Razorbacks said convinced them they could win.

It was a refreshing change from the tyrannical reign of coach Danny Ford, one the players don't shy from pointing out.

"I wish I had played for him all my five years," senior guard Russ Brown said. "A lot of the seniors, when we came in here, we knew we weren't winning because of lack of talent. What we didn't have was attitude.

"Players today need to be patted on the back a little bit, and coach brought in that positive attitude. I didn't know if it was for real at first. Some of the seniors wondered when he was going to break out the pompoms. It just shows you how much of this game is attitude, and Coach Nutt deserves all the credit."

So, who wants to win today the most?

As disappointed as the Wolverines are about not being able to defend their title, Feazell said winning today still is vital.

"Michigan men don't lose four games in a season," he said.

Burlsworth said that after years of frustration, today is a dream come true for many Razorbacks.

"This is something you dream about growing up, playing in a big ballgame like this against a major team like Michigan," he said. "Our guys are ready for the challenge."

AT A GLANCE

WHO: Michigan (9-3) vs.

Arkansas (9-2).

LINE: Michigan by 3.

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