Mr. Nutt's Wild Ride Heads To Orlando
After all, the No. 12 Razorbacks have gone through as many ups and downs this season as a passenger on a roller coaster. So they might as well cap their wild ride by playing in Orlando, home of Disney World. Arkansas' coaches and players had hoped to beat No. 2 Florida in Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta and earn a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3. But instead, the Razorbacks (10-3, 7-2) had to settle for an invite to the Capital One Bowl after a slew of special-teams mistakes and trick plays led to a 38-28 loss to the Gators in the Georgia Dome. It was Arkansas' second straight close loss to a top 5 opponent after reeling off 10 straight wins. Arkansas had its national championship hopes dashed with a 31-26 to No. 4 LSU on Nov. 24 in the final game of the regular season. Arkansas, whose season began with a 50-14 loss to No. 8 Southern California and included one of the more unlikely turnarounds, will face No. 6 Wisconsin (11-1) at noon Monday, Jan. 1 in Orlando's Citrus Bowl. "I know (the players) would've been happy no matter where we would go because (the Capital One Bowl and Cotton Bowl) are Jan. 1 bowls," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Sunday. "But this just gives you a little bit more of a shot in the arm. "You know you're going to have the warm weather. Some of our seniors have been to the Cotton Bowl, but they haven't been to Orlando." Arkansas has a long tradition of playing in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, and there was some talk that the Capital One Bowl would rather have No. 17 Tennessee instead of the Razorbacks. The theory was that the Volunteers were a more attractive option because they could perhaps draw more fans to Orlando. The talk proved to be false. Following Saturday's loss, Nutt said his team "deserves the best available," which was the Capital One Bowl. The game pits the No. 2 SEC team against a Big Ten representative. LSU earning an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl made that a possibility for the Razorbacks. "It's a very, very prestigious bowl," Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said. "It's great vacation for our fans to go there, and there are so many opportunities." The Capital One Bowl has a payout of $4.25 million to each participating team, compared to $3 million from the Cotton Bowl. This year, the Capital One Bowl will include two teams that weren't expected to be there. Before the start of the season, neither Arkansas nor Wisconsin was ranked in either of the Associated Press or USA Today coaches polls. The Razorbacks return to the postseason following back-to-back losing seasons, but it might take a little while before the players can enjoy the opportunity and forget about Saturday's loss in the SEC Championship Game. Arkansas erased a 17-point deficit in the first half, only to let Florida take another double-digit lead thanks to a muffed punt by Reggie Fish and a few late big plays. Nutt said he will give his players the week off, and they won't practice again until Saturday. Even then, the practice is intended more for underclassmen to get more work than usual. "This is what we've been missing the last couple of years, this valuable, valuable practice time," Nutt said. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he watched Arkansas in Saturday's SEC Championship Game, and he wasn't surprised when he learned that he'd be facing Arkansas. "Coach Nutt is probably extremely excited about his opportunity (to go to the Capital One Bowl), as well, because before the season there were probably a lot of people that doubted what kind of results they were able to have this year," Bielema said. "And they proved everybody wrong."
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