Missouri Hoping To Make Most Of Cotton Bowl Matchup With Arkansas

The Tigers still have plenty to be enthused about

Dec. 31, 2007

DALLAS (AP) - Missouri has had a month to get over its disappointment after being left out of a BCS bowl.

The Tigers still have plenty to be enthused about, like their first New Year's Day game since 1970.

"We're excited about playing in this level of a bowl game," said coach Gary Pinkel, whose seventh-ranked Tigers face No. 25 Arkansas in Tuesday's Cotton Bowl. "It's a different experience for our players. Every time your players go through these experiences, expectation levels change."

Expectations increased so much at Missouri this season the Tigers were initially upset about their postseason fate. Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the nation before losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.

After squandering a chance to play in the BCS title game, the Tigers (11-2) were left out of the Bowl Championship Series entirely. A couple teams they beat ended up in BCS bowls - Kansas in the Orange Bowl and Illinois in the Rose - which didn't sit well with Tigers fans.

The Cotton Bowl is a pretty big stage, though. Missouri hasn't played in it since 1946 and hasn't played on New Year's Day since the 1970 Orange Bowl. The Tigers appear motivated by the chance to prove themselves against a Southeastern Conference team.

"Speed's everywhere," said Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, an All-American this season as an all-purpose player. "It's not just the SEC. That's what everybody thinks, especially from the SEC. They think they're going to be the fastest team on the field. But we've got some guys that can run out there."

Missouri's spread offense is high-powered and fast-paced. Arkansas (8-4) relies more on a powerful offensive line and spectacular tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. McFadden, the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2006 and 2007, has rushed for 1,725 yards this season. Herschel Walker holds the SEC record of 1,891.

McFadden, a junior, can turn pro after this game. There's even been concern his college career could be over earlier. The university was looking into his eligibility after an Arkansas television station last week linked McFadden and an agent to the purchase of a vehicle. After strong denials by the agent and McFadden's parents, the station apologized Friday, saying its report was flawed. Coaches expressed confidence McFadden would play against Missouri as expected.



"Darren McFadden is a great, great, great person," said Arkansas interim coach Reggie Herring, who took over when Houston Nutt stepped down in late November. "He would never do anything to hurt the University of Arkansas or his teammates."

McFadden isn't the only Heisman finalist in the Cotton Bowl. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel finished fourth after throwing for 4,170 yards and 33 touchdowns.

"Yeah we're going to throw it around, they're going to run it around," Daniel said. "It will be a fun and exciting game to watch."

Missouri's All-America tight end Martin Rucker has 81 receptions, and Maclin has 77 receptions for 1,023 yards.

Maclin also returned two punts and a kick for touchdowns this season. Arkansas' Felix Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher, has scored on two kick returns.

"You've got two Heisman finalists on the same field, you've got two return specialists on the same field," Maclin said. "You can't ask for a better atmosphere or a better game."

Herring will give up head coaching duties to Bobby Petrino after the game. Other teams with interim coaches - such as Texas A&M, UCLA and Houston - lost their bowls, but if there's one group that should be used to a little turmoil, it's this Arkansas team.

Nutt faced fan unrest for most of the year - banners criticizing the coach were flown before games. Arkansas lost its first three SEC games before rallying late in the season. The Razorbacks' most recent game was a 50-48, triple-overtime win at then-No. 1 LSU the day after Thanksgiving - a victory that helped Missouri briefly take over the top spot in the polls and the BCS.

"We've had our fair share of rumors and stuff that has happened. This team certainly has done a great job of not paying any attention to those things," Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick said. "We put that behind us, keep going and don't really worry about what everybody else says."

Dick is from Texas and so is Daniel, another interesting subplot for this game. Although Missouri came close to playing for the national championship, Daniel is enjoying this trip.

"It's one of the best bowls in the country, no matter what conference you're from," Daniel said. "We're excited about it, for sure."