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December 29, 2007

Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Arkansas

Cotton Bowl: Who has the edge? | Bowl rematches | Bowl Central | Bowl schedule

Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4)
WHEN: 11:30 a.m., Tuesday
WHERE: Cotton Bowl, Dallas
TV: Fox (Pat Summerall will do play-by-play, with Brian Baldinger as the analyst)
THE LINE: Missouri by 3.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Missouri 5-2, Arkansas 2-4
RECORD VS. BCS TOP 25: Missouri 2-2, Arkansas 1-2
BCS RANK: Missouri 6th, Arkansas 27th
SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Missouri 13th, Arkansas 65th
COACHES: Missouri - Gary Pinkel (2-2 in bowls); Arkansas - Reggie Herring (interim; first bowl)
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Two Heisman finalists are featured, with Missouri QB Chase Daniel and Arkansas TB Darren McFadden. It's likely to be the last college game for McFadden, who is expected to be among the top picks if not the top pick in April's NFL Draft.
KEY STATS: Missouri ranks No. 7 nationally in pass offense at 327.8 yards per game. Arkansas ranks No. 3 nationally in rush offense at 296.8 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: McFadden may be the nation's preeminent big-play threat, and he can produce touchdowns rushing, receiving, returning and passing. He exceeded 100 yards rushing three times in November and had more than 200 yards twice.
Olin Buchanan
Dallas is a fine place, a city that offers a lot to do and plenty to see.

But in January, when temperatures sometimes plunge to seemingly arctic levels, Dallas also can leave a lot to be desired.

That's especially true if sunny Miami could've been and perhaps should've been an alternate destination.

North Texas or South Beach? South Beach or north Texas? Is there any doubt the winner of that debate?

Therefore, it would be understandable if the Missouri Tigers remain bitter at being sent to Dallas to play Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. Many believe Missouri not Kansas should be playing in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

After all, the Tigers defeated Kansas two weeks before bowl assignments were announced, were ranked two places ahead of the Jayhawks in the BCS standings and played a tougher schedule (13th, to KU's 81st). Mizzou also beat Illinois, which is headed to the Rose Bowl.

"We were upset," Missouri tight end Martin Rucker said. "But the only reason we were upset was because we beat two teams that are going to BCS games. It didn't make sense to us."

Bowl pairings often don't make sense, and teams upset at being slighted are often subject to, well, upsets.

  • In 1983, 10-1 SMU was angry at being passed over for the Sugar Bowl in favor of 9-2 Michigan. SMU went to the Sun Bowl, where the Mustangs were promptly blasted 28-10 by Alabama.

  • In 1998, 11-1 Kansas State ended up in the Alamo Bowl and lost 37-34 to Purdue.

  • In 2004, 10-1 California was angry it was snubbed for the Rose Bowl in favor of Texas. The Bears then were pummeled 45-31 by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.

  • In 2005, 10-1 Oregon was spurned by the BCS in favor of Notre Dame, which went to the Fiesta Bowl. The Ducks lost to Oklahoma 17-14 in the Holiday Bowl.

    Clearly, disinterest can lead to a dismantling in bowl games.

    So even though Missouri, favored by 3.5 points over Arkansas, clearly is at risk of joining that list of underappreciated but also underachieving teams, the Tigers are adamant that they won't sleepwalk through the Cotton Bowl.

    "We're not going to lose any sleep because we were not picked for the Orange Bowl or a BCS game," Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel said. "We were upset, of course, but we're not going to lose sleep over it.

    "We were disappointed, but no matter what, we're still playing in a Jan. 1 bowl game."

    That is no small accomplishment at Missouri, which hasn't played in a New Year's Day game since the Orange Bowl after the 1969 season. The Tigers lost 10-3 to Penn State.

    This year's Cotton Bowl should have much more offense. Two Heisman Trophy finalists Daniel and Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden are featured. Behind Daniel, Missouri's passing game ranks seventh in the nation. With McFadden leading the way, Arkansas' running game ranks third in the country.

    The power of the Razorbacks' running game was on display when Arkansas upset then top-ranked LSU in the regular-season finale behind a dominating 206-yard rushing performance by McFadden.

    Daniel watched that game, and knows the Tigers have to be sharp to be competitive.

    "(McFadden) is a great player and it looked like he could do anything (against LSU)," Daniel said. "It was like he was a god on the football field. We'll have our hands full. It's going to be a shootout."

    The Tigers are saying all the right things, but talking a good game is easy. Playing one is much more difficult. Still, the Tigers maintain that have plenty of reasons to be motivated in the Cotton Bowl, not the least of which is that Missouri's roster includes 20 Texans. Daniel is from suburban Dallas.

    "That's awesome and we're pumped up," Daniel said. "I'm happy. I grew up watching the Cotton Bowl and personally, for me, it's a chance to play in front of my friends."

    Even more important is that several senior starters hope to make school history in their last game. A victory would mark the first time Missouri has won 12 games in a season.

    "You always want to go out with a bang, with a win," Rucker said. "Our class' goal when we came here was to turn this program around and restore Mizzou to national prominence. We do a lot of recruiting in Dallas, so if we win, in the long run it may help us in going to a BCS game."

    It's all true: Missouri has a chance to make history against an SEC opponent with a Heisman Trophy runner-up, seniors are striving to end their careers with a victory and several players want to make an impression in a return to their home state. But if the game is played in poor weather, isn't there at least a chance the Tigers will be thinking about Miami and its tropical climate?

    "Maybe after the game," Rucker said. "But I'm from Missouri, so I'm used to playing in cold weather."

    Cotton Bowl: Olin Buchanan breaks it down
    Missouri run offense vs. Arkansas run defense
    EDGE: Arkansas When healthy, Tony Temple is a solid runner who has rushed for more than 90 yards five times this season. Versatile freshman WR Jeremy Maclin also is a threat. Arkansas has had issues stopping the run at times this season. Three times opposing backs have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Razorbacks, but the Hogs won all three of those games.
    Missouri pass offense vs. Arkansas pass defense
    EDGE: Missouri Behind Daniel, who has thrown for 4,170 yards and 33 touchdowns, Missouri ranks seventh in the nation in passing. Six Tigers had at least 37 receptions, including Martin Rucker, who leads the nation's tight ends with 81 catches. Arkansas' pass defense has been vulnerable at times, especially against bowl teams. Three bowl-bound opponents passed for at least 265 yards against the Razorbacks. Arkansas doesn't have an overpowering pass rush, but has grabbed 19 interceptions. CB Jerrell Norton has five of those.
    Arkansas run offense vs. Missouri run defense
    EDGE: Arkansas McFadden and Felix Jones are the only running backs from the same team to each rush for more than 1,000 yards this season. Jones' 9.1-yards-per-carry average easily was the highest among ranked NCAA rushers. Not surprisingly, Arkansas ranked third in the nation in rushing offense. Missouri is solid against the run, but has allowed 14 rushing touchdowns in seven games against bowl-bound opponents.
    Arkansas pass offense vs. Missouri pass defense
    EDGE: Missouri QB Casey Dick isn't as good as most SEC quarterbacks but isn't as bad as his detractors make him out to be. He threw for 18 TDs and nine interceptions. McFadden also is a threat to pass. Missouri ranks 101st in pass defense, but FS William Moore has had an All-American-type year. The Tigers' pass rush is adequate.
    Arkansas special teams vs. Missouri special teams
    EDGE: Missouri The Tigers' and Razorbacks' special teams are similar. Both have reliable kickers, decent punters and dangerous return specialists. Arkansas kicker Alex Tejada hit 17 of 21 attempts and is 13-for-13 inside 40 yards. Punter Jeremy Davis averaged 40.2 yards and had 17 downed inside the 20. Missouri's Jeff Wolfert is 20 of 24 on field-goal attempts and 16 of 17 inside the 40. Punter Adam Crossett averages 38.9 yards and also had 17 downed inside the 20. Arkansas' Felix Jones is one of the best in the country on kickoff returns, and Missouri's Maclin excels on both kickoff and punt returns.
    Arkansas coaching staff vs. Missouri coaching staff
    EDGE: Missouri Under Gary Pinkel, traditionally underachieving Missouri finally has approached its potential. The Tigers followed up an eight-win showing in 2006 with one of their best seasons. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has drawn praise for his schemes in wins over Texas Tech and Kansas. Arkansas has a successful coach, but he's not yet guiding the Razorbacks. Bobby Petrino obviously will be watching intently to see what he's inherited from Houston Nutt, who left the Hogs to take over as Ole Miss' coach. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring will serve as interim coach in the Cotton Bowl.
    Arkansas will win if
    The Razorbacks need to control the ball with their running game and avoid giving up the big play. Missouri will move the ball, but its spread offense can have trouble inside the red zone. In their Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma, the Tigers were forced to settle for field goals on three of four forays inside OU's 20.
    Missouri will win if
    Daniel needs time to find holes in Arkansas' pass defense. If that happens, Mizzou is in good shape. The Tigers have exceeded 30 points in 12 games, so they're certainly capable of winning a shootout. But they would greatly enhance their chances if the defense can at least slow down Arkansas' running game.
    Missouri has lost only to Oklahoma this season, yet did not get invited to a BCS bowl. When a team lands in a less-prestigious game, there always is a concern that the players don't want to be there. How will Mizzou's players perform?
    The picks
    Buchanan's pick: Missouri 34-31
    Other Rivals.com expert picks:
    Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Missouri 31-23
    Mike Huguenin, college sports editor: Missouri 38-26
    Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Missouri 35-28
    Check out the rest of the Rivals.com Expert Picks.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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