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December 29, 2007
Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Arkansas
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
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.
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."
Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.