COLUMBIA — In less than a month, the Missouri football team returns to Texas.
On Sunday, the Tigers, ranked sixth in the Bowl Championship Series, accepted a bid to play in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 in Dallas. Missouri will face Arkansas, a team it faced in the 2003 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. Missouri lost that game 27-14.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel praised the Cotton Bowl on Sunday.
“This is one of the great traditional games out there,” he said, “and it’s in a prime recruiting area for (our) program.”
Despite the excitement in the voices of Pinkel and athletic director Mike Alden, the disappointment of the players was obvious. Most sat in the hallway adjacent to the banquet room in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Some slouched, some sat stoic, and others chatted quietly before the announcement was made. After Mark Alnutt, the associate athletic director for administration, broke the news, the players clapped politely.
The sting of Saturday night’s 38-17 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship was apparent on the players’ faces. Coupled with the release of the five BCS bowl pairings, the mood around the team was solemn.
Two teams that the Tigers beat in the regular season are going to BCS bowls.
Illinois, which lost to Missouri 40-34 to open the season, will play Pac-10 champion USC in the Rose Bowl.
And arch-rival Kansas, which suffered its only loss against Missouri on Nov. 23, was paired with ACC-champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The selection, while projected by many before Sunday, drew a negative response from the Fox analysts hosting the BCS Selection TV show.
“They (Kansas) deserve all the accolades they’ve gotten this season,” analyst Charles Davis said, pausing for effect after his last word. “Except for this game, in my humble opinion.”
The Jayhawks’ strength of schedule was 88th in the nation, according to USA Today’s Web site. Missouri’s was 24th. Although Missouri lost two games, both defeats came at the hands of Oklahoma, ranked fourth in the latest BCS standings. Kansas finished the regular season ranked eighth in the BCS. The USA Today Coaches’ poll and the AP poll both had the Tigers one spot ahead of the Jayhawks.
It appears that last impressions meant most in the bowl consideration.
“It was definitely a factor that Missouri lost to OU,” Larry Wahl, the Orange Bowl’s vice president of media and public relations, said by phone on Sunday. “And they lost in pretty convincing fashion. Kansas lost its last game, too, but I guess Missouri’s loss is just fresher on everyone’s mind.”
Wahl said Missouri’s three-touchdown loss to the Sooners looked worse than Kansas’ eight-point loss to the Tigers.
“With Kansas, we have the opportunity to get one of the two one-loss teams in the nation,” Wahl said. The other one-loss team is top-ranked Ohio State, who faces No. 2 LSU in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.
Georgia, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois were the four at-large teams considered for BCS bowls, according to Wahl. Georgia, ranked fourth, will play in the Sugar Bowl against undefeated Hawaii. No. 13 Illinois’ selection was made possible only by a late-season rule change that expanded the BCS pool from 12 to 14 teams.
Leading up to the Big 12 Championship, there had been talk about the advantages and disadvantages of conference title games.
“A conference championship can elevate a team, like LSU this year or Florida last year,” Wahl said. “Or it can diminish a team, like Missouri this year.”
Rick Baker, president of the Cotton Bowl, said that tickets are nearly sold out for the Jan. 1 game, except for tickets allotted to Missouri and Arkansas. Tickets go on sale today at 8 a.m. online at www.MUtigers.com, or they can be purchased over the phone at 1-800-CAT-PAWS (884-PAWS in Columbia). Fans can also buy travel packages through the Missouri Alumni Association Web site or www.greatsoutherntravel.com.