AT&T Cotton Bowl
Jan. 1, 8:30 a.m. PST
Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4)
Spread: Missouri – 3.5
The 2007 Missouri team is similar to the 2006 Wisconsin team in that they only lost one game to a highly ranked opponent and yet was left out of the BCS mix. In fact, if there weren’t a conference championship game in the Big 12, Missouri would be playing for the national championship against Ohio State. They certainly don’t have a national title caliber defense, but the spread offense is methodical and can light up the scoreboard with the best of them. In Arkansas they’ve found one of those teams. Both teams rank in the top 10 in scoring offense and the top 20 in total offense. Arkansas has a fairly different approach from the pass oriented Missouri team but due to a dynamic duo at running back, it is no less effective. This should be a fun way to get rid of that awful new years hangover. If you’re on the west coast, you may as well just stay up and keep drinking.
Arkansas might come with the second billing in this game but running back Darren McFadden is the best in the country. Any team that passes on him in the upcoming NFL draft will feel like those who passed on Adrian Peterson last year. McFadden is good enough to start for several NFL teams right now and the Arkansas offense does its best to exploit all of his talents, using him at quarterback to lessen the burden on starter Casey Dick. McFadden isn’t a precise passer, but his ability to throw the ball keeps the secondary in coverage. The Missouri defense has faced some powerful offenses this year, including Oklahoma twice. That along with their quick-score offense has skewed their defensive stats somewhat. That said, nobody’s been able to keep McFadden and backup Felix – don’t call me a backup – Jones in check all season. The two should have a big day against Missouri and keep them in the game until the very end.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, head coach Houston Nutt is gone and new coach Bobby Petrino isn’t there yet. Interim coaches rarely have success, in this case it’s defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. He’s known for his aggressive style and playing tight man coverage on the outside. In this game against a quarterback with the skills of Missouri’s Chase Daniel, that could be their demise.
Daniel, a Heisman finalist, threw for 4,170 yards, 33 TD’s and 10 interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes. He doesn’t just key in on one man though as six players have at least 37 receptions. Tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker are two of the best in the Big 12 and are used as much as any in the nation. The game breaker is Jeremy Maclin. Just a freshman, Maclin has 15 total TD’s. He leads the team in receiving yards, is second in rushing and is one of the top return men in the country. He is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball and Missouri tries to get him as many touches as possible. Arkansas won’t be able to shut down this offense. If they ignore the running game, Tony Temple will have enough running room to break off big runs. Despite only getting more than 20 carries twice this year and sitting out a few games due to injury he has run for 758 yards and 8 TD’s. The Arkansas defense has to take him into account or he’ll slowly chip away yardage and time.
Missouri could be playing in the national championship game right now, Arkansas doesn’t really have a head coach. The difference will be on the scoreboard, but it won’t be much.
Missouri 49 – Arkansas 45