COLUMBIA — The look on Chase Daniel’s face told the story.
A No. 1-ranking. A chance at a Big 12 championship. A Heisman trophy.
A shot at a national title.
All that left on the turf of the Alamodome in San Antonio. The consolation prize? A Jan. 1 trip to Dallas to face Arkansas, ranked 25th in the AP poll.
The star quarterbacksat in a chair backed up to a pillar in the banquet room of the Reynolds Alumni Center on Sunday. Slouching, right leg crossed over his left, Daniel gazed solemnly ahead as athletic director Mike Alden, associate athletic director Mark Alnutt and coach Gary Pinkel took the stage to announce the Tigers’ bowl destination. His eyes appeared locked on San Antonio, seeing what could have, what should have, been.
When Alnutt announced that Missouri accepted a bid to play in the Cotton Bowl, Daniel didn’t break his gaze. His only reaction was four claps, polite and quiet.
But definitely not enthusiastic.
Daniel, as always, talked like the consummate leader. He wouldn’t question the decision to put Illinois and Kansas, two teams he helped beat, in BCS bowls over Missouri.
“It’s disappointing,” was the only negative comment Daniel let slip. “But we can’t focus on that.”
True to their leader, his teammates also dodged questions about the credentials of the Illini and Jayhawks.
“We can’t really blame it on anyone but ourselves,” said Jeremy Maclin about Illinois and Kansas’ inclusion. “.... You know, it’s kind of messed up in a way. But they did what they had to do to get there, and unfortunately we didn’t do what we had to do.”
When pressed for his team’s reaction, Maclin didn’t falter.
“I can’t really say anything,” Maclin said. “I mean, they’re playing in it, and we’re not. That’s all it comes down to.”
While the players refused to talk about what-ifs, they talked at length about the implications of Saturday’s loss.
“We definitely wanted more,” defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams said. “It was right there for us, and we definitely didn’t take advantage. It (the Cotton Bowl bid) means a lot, and I’m pretty sure later on in life, I’m really going to appreciate it. Just the day after a loss, you don’t really feel like dealing with it.”
Williams said Saturday’s loss will take some time to forget.
“Everytime the TV goes on and you see the Sears trophy up there, you’re like, ‘Man,’” Williams said, referring to the national championship trophy. “Me and Tony Temple were watching the Chiefs’ game today. The BCS came up, and the trophy came up, and man, that kind of hurt again. You keep remembering what you lost last night. It wasn’t just the Big 12 championship. It was much more than that and much bigger.
“I don’t know. It’s tough right now, but I’m sure it’ll be good later.”
For now, Missouri must prepare for a bowl that Daniel said he views as a tier below the BCS. The Tigers must also prepare for the Razorbacks’ two-headed monster: running backs Felix Jones, and Heisman-trophy candidate Darren McFadden.
“I don’t know too much about them,” Daniel said of Arkansas. “Obviously, they upset the No. 1 team in the nation, LSU, and they have two really good backs in McFadden and Felix Jones, so our defense will have their work cut out for them.”
That might be an understatement. McFadden and Jones have combined for 2,842 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns. Four of those TDs have come courtesy of McFadden’s arm. The junior running back takes snaps from the shotgun in Arkansas’ Wildhog formation.
“....Those two running backs are amazing,” Williams doted. “When they get rolling together, they’re pretty much unstoppable.”
Pinkel’s description of the talented tandem was interspersed with words such as unbelievable, athletic, amazing, and remarkable. While the team doesn’t know the X’s and O’s of Arkansas offense, according to Williams and Pinkel, they’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
Just not right now.
“You’ve got to take it slow,” Williams said. “Right now, we’ve got two weeks off, so we don’t want to talk about football at all.”