2008 Cotton Bowl Preview and Pick: Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Missouri Tigers

2008 Cotton Bowl: Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4) +3.5, 69 O/U vs. Missouri Tigers (11-2) -3.5, 69 O/U, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, Texas, 11:30 AM Eastern, Tuesday January 1st
by Badger of Predictem.com

The Arkansas Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers will have to play one heck of a game in the 2008 Cotton Bowl on New Years Day in order for the action on the field to match the publicity and hype surrounding these teams off the field in recent weeks.

Arkansas has dominated the headlines in college football for a few weeks now. First, it was the sudden and immediate resignation of their head coach Houston Nutt following the Razorbacks upset of then- No. 1 LSU on November 23rd, 50-48. Nutt was unemployed for about 12 hours before he was announced as the new coach at Mississippi, a rival in the very same SEC Conference, which caused even more unrest in Razorback territory.

Then, as if they didn’t already have enough controversy going on, the Razorbacks announced the hiring of their new head coach, Bobby Petrino, in a near-midnight press conference just hours after Petrino ditched the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL with three games left on the schedule.

Missouri should have plenty of motivation for this game after being snubbed by the BCS selection committee following their 38-17 loss to Oklahoma in the Big-12 Championship game December 1st. Instead of selecting the Tigers for one of the BCS five big payout bowls, the committee instead chose Kansas, a team the Tigers beat head-to-head on November 24th, 36-28. The snub of Missouri was the topic of many water cooler conversations and sports talk show call-in segments, with the BCS taking a lot of criticism for the decision.

Oddsmakers opened the game with Missouri as a 3.5-point favorite, with a 69.5 total.

The good news for football fans is that this game features two of the countrys best players in Arkansass Darren McFadden and Missouris Chase Daniel.

McFadden, the Heisman runner-up two years in a row, is everything for the Razorbacks offense: their best runner, arguably their best thrower, and by far their biggest and best weapon. McFadden (1,727 yds. rush, 16 TD’s; 4 TD’s passing too) leads a potent Arkansas attack that finished 16th overall in yards per game (457.3) and 9th overall in scoring at 39.8 per game. Oh yeah, and the Razorbacks also have Felix Jones (1,114 yds., 11 TD’s) to split carries with McFadden. The two combine for the nations 3rd best running attack, at a nearly 300 yards per game average (296.7). Arkansas needs all of those yards running too, because quarterback Casey Dick is average at best and the Backs passing game is 113th in the land.

Daniel (4,170 yds., 33 TD’s, 69.7 comp%) leads the Missouri spread- attack passing game that rolls up big yardage numbers overall (492.7 per game – 5th), and in the air (327.8 – 7th). Daniels favorite target is freshman Jeremy Maclin (1,023 yds., 9 TD’s), who is also a threat as a returner and a runner. Senior running back Tony Temple (758 yds., 8TDs) missed some games this season with a bad ankle, but his return to the lineup does give the Tigers a little more run-pass balance. Up until the Big 12 title game, the Tigers were the only team in the country to score at least 30 points in every game this season, as their 40 point per game average (7th) would indicate.

Arkansas is vulnerable on defense, although they did have better numbers versus the pass (37th – 211 ypg) then versus the run (55th – 147.9 ypg). Those yardage numbers combined for 46th overall in the country, but the 25.6 points allowed per game average is slightly higher at 50th overall in the NCAA.

Missouri has a defensive unit that is worse statistically than the Razorbacks, but with the Tigers offense scoring points in bunches it has only hurt the team a few times this season. The Tigers are 61st overall allowing 380.3 yards per game, but they have an especially hard time stopping the passing game (261.5 ypg – 101st). That shouldn’t be as much of a problem versus Arkansas though, as the Razorbacks struggle to throw the ball anyway.

These two teams met once before in the 2003 Independence Bowl, a game the Razorbacks won 27-14 as a 3-point favorite. The game also came in under the total of 54.

This year the Razorbacks were a strong 7-4 ATS, including a 5-1 ATS record in their final six games. They were also a very good over play, as they went over the total in 8 of their 11 games in 2007 and have gone over in 8 of their last 10 non-conference games.

Missouri was a cash machine for sharp bettors this season, finishing the year 9-3 ATS (also 11-3 ATS in last 14). Although they did struggle to cover the number late in the season (3-3 final 6 games) as the public started to learn about them and as sportsbooks started jacking up the spread in their games. They are also a strong over play, going over the total in 8 of their 12 games and 10 of their last 14 overall.

The spread hasn’t move too much since it opened, as most Online Sportsbooks still have the game listed with Missouri as a 3.5-point favorite. A few Las Vegas sportsbooks have dropped the line to -3, but you can easily shop around for the extra half point. The total has fluctuated a point up and down, as some books have it as low as 68 or as high as 70.

Badgers Pick: I like Missouri in this game. First, they have the motivation to stick it to the BCS for passing them over. They also have a passing attack that I think Arkansas will have a hard time stopping. Plus, Arkansas just doesn’t throw the ball well enough to loosen up what I expect will be 8- and 9-man front from the Tigers. McFadden and Jones will bust a few big ones because they are that good, but in the end the Tigers will pull away. Take Missouri minus the points.