OK, call me a homer.
Arkansas 28, Ohio State 24.
Going with my heart?
This game means a lot more to people in Arkansas than it means to those in Ohio.
Going with my head?
Arkansas peaked at the right time this year. I truly believe the Razorback offense will be hard to stop tonight.
But bowl games are so hard to predict. It has been more than a month since either team has played a game. It is, in essence, a new season.
So I’ll go back to the part about picking with my heart.
I’m drawn to a quote in this morning’s Times-Picayune in New Orleans. It’s from an Arkansas fan from Redfield, Gabriel Jones: “We’ve come so far. We’re an underdog team from an underdog state. Beating Ohio State would put us on the map, and the sky’s the limit after that. Just to be down here and be part of history, Arkansas history, I wouldn’t take anything in the world for it.”
Think about it: An underdog team from an underdog state.
That says a lot about us as a people, doesn’t it?
For all those decades in the Southwest Conference, we always knew we played in the shadow of the University of Texas. That, of course, made the occasional victories over the Longhorns all that more special.
Now, for almost two decades in the Southeastern Conference, we’ve continued to wear that collective chip on our shoulders, still feeling like the new kid on the block — the child at the back of the class who has yet to be fully accepted by his peers.
Along comes this Petrino fellow. He convinces his players — and then he convinces the rest of us — that Arkansas can be in the top tier of college football year after year.
And he casts his lot with us.
He signs a contract that says to us: “This is going to be my home. It’s where I want to be.”
Hear this from Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette: “It feels great to be in a BCS game and to play a great opponent in Ohio State. I guess we’re in the club now.”
Hear this from Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson: “This is just the next step toward where we want Arkansas to be.”
We’re almost in the club. We’re headed to where we’ve always wanted to be. It’s music to the ears of Arkansans from Eudora to Siloam Springs.
A win over Ohio State tonight would go a long way toward making Arkansas a regular member of that exclusive club.
You see, the Buckeyes have consistently been in the club for decades while Arkansas has just made occasional appearances.
The Bucks started the season ranked second nationally and rose to No. 1 for a week before a 31-18 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 16. Ohio State has won five consecutive games since then and doesn’t want a repeat of the school’s last visit to the Superdome, a 38-24 loss to LSU in the national championship game three years ago. Big Ten fans also are hoping the Buckeyes can atone for the conference’s 0-5 record (including 0-3 against SEC teams) on Saturday.
Arkansas has never defeated a Big Ten team in a bowl game (those losses came in the Nutt years) and last won a Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1969, against Georgia. I can remember watching Chuck Dicus work his magic that day on NBC.
Here’s how Ted Lewis put it in today’s Times-Picayune: “It’s about gaining national attention for Arkansas for something more than being the home state of Wal-Mart. The Razorbacks haven’t been in the national title mix since the Big Shootout loss to Texas in 1969 and twice were defeated in SEC championship games that would have at least gotten them to the Sugar Bowl. For an ambitious program wanting to be in the same discussion with Auburn, Alabama, Florida and LSU, SEC foes that have participated in the past five BCS title games, this is that opportunity.”
Yes, an opportunity that all of us here in the Land of Opportunity will be following tonight.
Lewis, by the way, picks Arkansas to win by a touchdown, 24-17.
He writes: “A tough week for the Buckeyes ends with their record in bowl games against SEC teams falling to 0-10. Ryan Mallett works over Ohio State’s secondary, and Terrelle Pryor’s performance makes some Ohio State fans wish his suspension was longer.”
Ron Higgins of The Commercial Appeal at Memphis picked Ohio State, 31-27, but I think he did it just to set up this gag: “Terrelle Pryor’s Miller-Digby trophy as the game’s MVP is sold on eBay even before the postgame party gets in full swing in the French Quarter. In accepting the award, Pryor says: ‘I love my teammates. I’d give any of them the shirt off my back — at least the ones that make me an offer.’”
Really, don’t you think most Americans outside of Big Ten country will be rooting for a team symbolized by D.J. Williams rather than one symbolized by the Tattoo Gang?
Williams won the Disney Spirit Award back on Dec. 9 as the nation’s most inspirational player and has received plenty of additional publicity in the week leading up to tonight’s game. You know the Williams story by now.
“Everyone knows that he smiles and loves life,” Petrino said. “And he’s one of those young men that you’re fortunate enough to be around that affects everybody around him in a positive way.”
D.J. Williams vs. Terrelle Pryor?
Yes, I’m picking with my heart.
As far as picking with my head, the New Orleans newspaper listed three Arkansas keys to victory with which I agree:
1. Hammer down with Mallett: “Though Ohio State gives up an average of only 156.2 yards per game passing, the Buckeyes haven’t faced anything like quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks’ passing game, which averages 338.4 yards. As long as Mallett is well protected, there’s no reason to believe he won’t have a big game.”
2. Corral Pryor: “Arkansas says it learned its lesson from the big effort that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton had against it. … Terrelle Pryor, in many respects, is similar to Newton. The key to limiting Pryor is keeping him contained and gang-tackling him. Though the Hogs’ defenders aren’t as big as Ohio State’s offensive line, they’re quick.”
3. Pretend it’s another SEC game: “It would be easy for Arkansas to be a little wide-eyed for this game. The Razorbacks have never been to a BCS bowl, and the nation will be looking in tonight with it being the only bowl game. But Arkansas has played in front of big crowds before in the SEC. If the Razorbacks can ditch the jitters early, they should be all right.”
In making college football predictions all season on this blog, I’ve attempted to be an unbiased observer.
Tonight, I’ll put aside my journalistic training and be a fan.