Badgers get Razorbacks
The University of Wisconsin football players were hoping to play the highest-ranked team possible in the Capital One Bowl. It turned out Capital One Bowl officials wanted the same thing. That's why Arkansas, and not Tennessee, was the surprise an...
The University of Wisconsin football players were hoping to play the highest-ranked team possible in the Capital One Bowl.
It turned out Capital One Bowl officials wanted the same thing.
That's why Arkansas, and not Tennessee, was the surprise announcement Sunday as the Southeastern Conference representative and the Badgers' opponent Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla.
"We've always prided ourselves on, the team that's earned it on the football field is one we'll always try and invite to our ballgame," Steve Hogan, Florida Citrus Sports executive director, said in a conference call. "If you look at our history, I think we've proven that.
"Four of the last seven years, we've taken the (SEC) championship game loser because they deserved to be here. I think Arkansas was one of those cases."
Hogan said the Razorbacks (10-3) earned it over the Volunteers on two fronts, defeating Tennessee 31-14 during the season and ranking five spots higher, at No. 12, in the final Bowl Championship Series standings. The Badgers were seventh.
"I really felt like, after talking to some of the committee people, they loved the way we competed, played hard, with a lot of heart," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of his team's performance in a 38-28 loss to Florida Saturday night in the SEC title game.
Although the Razorbacks have lost their last two games, also losing to LSU 31-26 the week before, they certainly impressed a lot of people battling back from a 17-0 second-quarter deficit and pushing the Gators, who are headed to the BCS title game, to the wire.
"Because of the way that (SEC title game) unfolded in front of us, how tight it was and how competitive a ballgame it was until the end, I really felt we'd probably come up with (Arkansas)," UW coach Bret Bielema said.
The last bowl appearance for Arkansas was a victory over Missouri in the Independence Bowl in 2003, and the Razorbacks' last New Year's Day bowl was a loss to Oklahoma in the 2002 Cotton Bowl.
"I know our players are going to be excited, once we get this bad taste out of our mouths," Nutt said. "Hopefully, we get that (loss to Florida) out of our minds by (Sunday) and get going. This will really help."
Several media reports out of Tennessee last week said the Volunteers were likely to wind up in Orlando if Florida won the SEC title game. Part of the reasoning was Arkansas would rather go to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is a shorter trip for its fans.
But the Capital One had the first pick of SEC teams after the BCS, and Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and Nutt assured officials last week they were interested in a trip to Florida.
"We just wanted to make it clear to the Capital One Bowl that we aren't turning down bowls," Nutt said. "We don't turn down bowls, especially the Capital One. We wanted to get that clear and make sure that they understood that when we were there in 1998 our fans and our players had a great time there."
Bielema referred to the matchup as "intriguing," and added, "Outside of the BCS mix, I'm sure this is a very exciting matchup for everybody."
The two teams are a lot alike. Neither was expected to be in a bowl this good before the season started. Neither team was ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 when the season began -- both teams were among the other teams receiving votes and were tied for the No. 32 spot.
The game will also feature two of the best young running backs in the nation in Arkansas sophomore Darren McFadden and UW redshirt freshman P.J. Hill.
The versatile McFadden does a little bit of everything for the Razorbacks, including lining up at quarterback at times in the shotgun. He set a school record with 1,558 rushing yards and has accounted for 19 touchdowns -- 14 running, one receiving, one on a kickoff and three throwing.
"He's as good as we've seen in our league in a while -- maybe across the country," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.
Both teams like to run the ball. Arkansas ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense and UW is 26th; the Badgers rank fourth nationally in overall defense.
If any Badgers fans were on the fence about traveling to Orlando, Bielema hopes they watched the SEC championship game Saturday night.
"You can see they have a lot of excitement, a lot of players that can make plays," Bielema said. "Obviously, everyone (at the game) will be wearing red now, anyway. (It's) just important they have that 'W' on their shirts, instead of 'A.'"