Arkansas will play Texas in the Advocare Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 29, it was announced Sunday afternoon.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Arkansas (6-6) is the representative of the SEC. Texas (6-6) is the Big 12 representative. It's the time slot normally saved for the NFL's Monday Night Football, but that's open since the playoffs begin.
For UA head coach Bret Bielema, he could not imagine a better scenario.
"For me, I don’t think it could be any better," Bielema said. "I think it has a great time slot. Exposure. Opportunity to play … Any time any of these bowls, back when I was at my other place we played some early bowls in Florida and I thought that was huge. You can have high school coaches and recruits over at your practices. So for us to be live on some Houston kids right now is really big. And then I think for proximity for our fans that want to travel and say, hey, I was here at this game when this started. Maybe we can use this to catapult us into 2015 would be huge.”
The Longhorn won three of their last four games to become eligible for the postseason, will be making their first appearance in the Texas Bowl. They finished each of their past two seasons at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
Arkansas won two of its last three to become bowl eligible. The Hogs blanked LSU and Ole Miss before losing to Missouri to end the regular season.
"We are very excited to have an opportunity to play Texas," Bielema said. "I think one of the neat things since I came here is to learn about all the traditions of the past and how they can carry into the future and where we are today.
"The Texas A&M game was really my first experience with that a year ago and what it meant to trends of the past and now to come full circle and get the chance to play Texas - 83 previous games - to be a part of some of those that came before us and honor that part of history is huge and will be really big for Arkansas fans who think back and realize two coaching legends with Coach (Frank) Broyles and Coach Darrell Royal - to have an opportunity to join that series is pretty cool. For me as a relatively young coach, you hear about those games, those coaches and the people involved, and now to be a part of that is really cool no matter how it came about."
Bielema said he's known Texas coach Charlie Strong, a native of Batesville and a graduate of Central Arkansas.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Strong, going back we crossed paths early in our coaching careers both being defensive coaches and guys who got head jobs relatively early in our careers," Bielema said. "I have a lot of respect for him and the challenge he took on at Texas and what he has been able to do since the start of this year and the rebuilding project he has as well. So really, really neat.
Bielema was asked how the game with Texas can play into recruiting.
"It's big for our program," Bielema said. "I think in today's world whatever you can spin into recruiting world is big and this is an easy one. To play the Longhorns and have a chance to be a part of a series that was such a meaningful game to both teams in the day when the Southwest Conference was there and all that goes into it, I know it will mean a lot to some of those old timers which to me I really enjoy.
"To have those guys grab me and tell me about different things it's really pretty easy in today's world because of the way recruiting has gone with social media network and everything. I was itching to tweet something out because in today's world that's what it's all about. And you can use that big-time in the weeks ahead."
The Hogs practiced Sunday, then will work practices into final exams this week.
"This is the week before finals so we went today - regardless of who we were playing I knew today, Wednesday and next Saturday were going to be all Arkansas. We might add a little bit into next Saturday on some preparation," Bielema said. "Most of my staff, though, the way they have changed the recruiting calendar you can only be out that last week, this week and then this coming Sunday.
"So it pretty much force you to dive full go into recruiting. Both Robb Smith and Jim Chaney, our two coordinators - I will remove them from the road on Tuesday evening. So they will come in Wednesday and get full go prep into Texas. The rest of my coaches will be in on Friday morning. We have a senior banquet Friday night where we honor our seniors and really have a chance to do some great things for them and then on Saturday in the morning will be a pretty intense practice that will involve mostly Arkansas on Arkansas but will get a little Texas. And the week after that is our finals week.
"We'll jump into practice for sure at least two or three days that week and in addition to the actual game week before we play them probably get an additional two to four practices which should give us a lot of time."
It's been a crazy month where the Hogs were on a 17-game SEC losing streak only to win back-to-back weeks to change all of that. Just three weeks later, they are playing Texas in a bowl game. Bielema said he did reflect on that.
“I did take a moment," Bielema said. "I was taking a quick shower and was thinking about during our second bye week we had a three-week stretch and I felt really good where we were at, but I wasn’t able to give you guys – not just (the media), but our fans. I wasn’t able to give them this quantitative piece of a win or something that just solidified what I knew was coming.
"I remember I was taking off on Sunday recruiting and I was taking a quick shower because I was running out the door and I remember I was like, these next three weeks, they’re going to mean a lot to our program, a lot to our recruiting class, a lot to our staff, a lot to our fan base.
"To win two games against ranked opponents back-to-back, to get as close as we did against Missouri and let us show that our warts are still there, we still need depth, I told our guys today, hey, you’re going to get a great chance to practice. You’re going to get somewhere from 10 to 15 bowl practices to show what we’ve got because I’ve got 25 guys coming in here looking to take your spot. That’s what good recruiting does. I know that. I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it. we’ll get better because of the depth that we’ll be able to recruit.
"I’ve seen so many stories, these recruiting practices, I remember taking a walk-on wide receiver, telling him that he couldn’t catch a cold, which he didn’t want to hear and moving him to defense. He begrudgingly did it and I think he signed a contract for over $8 million dollars and has been in the league now for five years.
"I think about that story. I think about a defensive end that was an outside linebacker during bowl practice. I took him from outside linebacker and moved him to defensive end. he didn’t want to do it. a year later he started one game as a defensive end, as an undersized rush end kind of guy. Three years later he was a third-round draft pick and has won a super bowl. These are really the times that we’re allotted to finding stories happen. And it’s really fun to be a part of them.”
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