Cotton Bowl Preview: Missouri vs. Arkansas

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Jan. 1, 8:30 a.m. PST
Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4)
Dallas, Texas
Payout: $3,000,000
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.

Prediction:
Missouri 49 – Arkansas 45

Outback Bowl Preview: Wisconsin vs. Tennessee

Outback Bowl
Jan. 1, 8 a.m. PST
Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Tennessee (9-4)
Tampa, Florida
Payout: $3,100,000
Spread: Tennessee – 2

For all the flack the Big 10 catches about being overrated and slow compared to the SEC, here’s two teams that bucked the “trend” last year. Tennessee lost to Penn State in the Outback Bowl and Wisconsin beat Arkansas in the Capitol One Bowl. So is the Big 10 really overrated and slow? Maybe, but not at Wisconsin. The Badgers have speed all over the field and will remind Tennessee of the Cal game earlier in the season.

Tennessee is in a difficult position preparing for this game. Two assistant coaches have already taken jobs at different schools but will remain with the Vols through the bowl game. Several starters were also declared academically ineligible, including weak-side linebacker Rico McCoy, defensive tackle Demonte’ Bolden and leading receiver Lucas Taylor. Amid all of this uncertainty, head coach Phillip Fulmer might have a hard time getting his players adequately prepared for a team as good as Wisconsin.

At the start of the season many thought Wisconsin would be a national championship contender. Injuries derailed those hopes and a few poor performances derailed those hopes. They can still record their third consecutive 10-win season and a win over the Volunteers would go a long way to restoring faith in the Big 10. Tailback PJ Brown is healthy but won’t get the start. Instead true freshman Zach Brown, who is more of a speed guy, will start in his place. Also expect sophomore Lance Smith to take a few carries. The Badgers will try to win this game on the ground and with the ability to use three different players with different styles, they’ll be able to keep Tennessee off balance. The Volunteer run defense wasn’t a great one to begin with. Losing Bolden and McCoy really hurts. Linebacker Jerod Mayo will show off his talent but without Bolden’s big body in the middle he might get caught up in the wash and get taken out of a number of plays.

UW quarterback Tyler Donovan is a pretty good athlete and he’s another reason the Vols will miss McCoy. McCoy’s athleticism would’ve helped in tracking down Donovan when he gets out of the pocket. Donovan isn’t a great passer though and if the Badgers have to throw the ball to win this game they’ll lose. Tennessee has a number of good athletes in the defensive backfield but the loss of Demetrice Morley this year really hurt. They’ve been forced to play younger players and some good has come out of that. True freshmen Brent Vinson and Eric Berry have shown flashes of pro-potential, but they’ve also shown their inexperience. Donovan might be able to take advantage of that if the running game is able to move the sticks. Play action passes to versatile tight end Travis Beckum could be a back breaker for Tennessee.

Tennessee’s offense also relies on a steady ground game but have a far better passing game to complement it. Arian Foster is the workhorse. He’s 225 lbs and has run for 1,162 yards and 12 TD’s but if not for quarterback Erik Ainge the offense would be anemic. Ainge has thrown for 3,157 yards, 29 TD’s and only 10 interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. Without leading receiver Lucas Taylor, Ainge will have to be comfortable completing passes to a less inspiring group of receivers. Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe will shoulder the load but tight end Chris Brown’s contribution might be the difference.

Wisconsin has given up some points this year. They can’t afford for that to happen in this game because they don’t have an offense that can keep up if this turns into a shootout. Corner Jack Ikegwuonu will have to take away one side of the field altogether. If Ainge is able to work the whole field he’s smart enough to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks but the Wisconsin linebacking corps has good speed and might be able to force some turnovers. This Badger defense has potential to be the best in the country next year if everyone comes back. Tennessee will need to come out firing on all cylinders to beat them.

Wisconsin, if they don’t need Tyler Donovan to win the game for them, should grind out a close, relatively low scoring victory. Next season they’ll be taking another run at the Big 10 championship while Phillip Fulmer tries yet again to hang onto his job at Tennessee.

Prediction:
Wisconsin 20 – Tennessee 17

Rush and Iceman Prevail To End 2007 With a Bang

GSP Matt Hughes

On a night where there were basically two main events, UFC 79: Nemesis did not disappoint.

Canada’s own George ‘Rush’ St. Pierre dominated highly touted Matt Hughes to move a step closer in retaining his welterweight championship title. On the other hand, Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell went toe-to-toe for three rounds with Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva before claiming victory by a unanimous decision. 

GSP came out motivated and focused to beat one of the greatest welterweights of the sport, Hughes. From the get-go, the Montreal native attacked Hughes as he took the 34-year-old down two minutes in. The first round saw GSP on top, not allowing much offense from the two-time 170-pound division champion. Then in the second, GSP, who was sporting a fleur-de-lis on his blue trunks, took Hughes down with a slick judo throw and applied the armbar. Thus, causing Hughes (43-6) to verbally submit.

“I think Georges St. Pierre has the potential to be the greatest 170-pounder ever,” said trainer Greg Jackson. “He’s just phenomenal. The scary thing is he keeps getting better.” 

GSP will now face Matt Serra to determine the title holder for real in Montreal on April 19 at the Bell Centre. Serra, who was slated to fight Hughes in defense of his gold, injured his back during practice. Therefore, St. Pierre and Hughes fought for contendership. The last time Serra and St. Pierre met, “The Terror” upsetted the 26-year-old to capture his first welterweight championship.

St. Pierre (15-2) made Canada proud, as chants of GSP could be heard throughout Mandalay Bay Events Centre, and even at the Shark Club in downtown Vancouver. Not bad for the most recognized UFC fighter north of the border, and I’m sure he’ll be pumped to be able to fight for the gold in his hometown.

Liddell Silva

The other high profile battle on the fight card ended as a bloodbath. Yes, Silva was sent to the hospital after the match for a CAT scan.

It was no surprise as the match saw both crazed-maniacs throw punch after punch at each other, yet failing to knockout the opponent. The match lasted for three rounds, with the result decided by the judges. The UFC president had three words to describe the brawl.

“A great fight,” said Dana White, who spent six years trying to make the matchup of these two former UFC and Pride champions. 

The Liddell-Silva fight basically stole the show. Even light-heavyweight champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and middleweight title holder Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva were on their feets cheering the duo on. Both of these men came in having lost their last two matches, but the in-media trash talking drew up the hype for this light-heavyweight fight.

Both men had chances to finish their opponents off, as Liddell (21-5) fell twice, once due to slipping and the other punch related. Silva failed to capitalize on those opportunities, as the Brazilian usually would have taken advantage in those situation. On the other hand, a bloodied Silva was cornered against the cage a few times, yet the fast-fist-flying 38-year-old failed to end the fight and put ‘The Axe Murderer’ out.

When asked why later, Liddell said, “Because he’s a tough man.” 

That was indeed a true statement as Silva absorbed punch after punch, and threw some counter jabs of his own. It was indeed a match to remember, as the excitement and entertainment level was intense.

The other winners of the night included the undefeated Brazilian Lyoto Machida (12-0), who submitted the highly praised light-heavyweight Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (4-2) in the second round with an arm triangle hold. The worst part for the Cameroon fighter was that it was his UFC debut.

It was a night that started with bitterness, as Rich Clementi forced hated rival Melvin Guillard to tap out from a rear naked choke in the first round. ‘The Young Assassin’ tried to charge ‘No Love’, who taunted him after the match, but had to be refrained by security. 

In the end, fans went home satisfied as the UFC ended the year with entertainment and bloodshed not matched by any other sport. It was definitely not for the faint of heart.

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