Cotton Bowl Executive Director Rick Baker took the podium at Ole Miss Tuesday afternoon with a wide grin.
"It's going to be hard to wipe this smile off my face for the next few weeks," Baker said. "We couldn't be more excited about the match up we have with Ole Miss and Texas Tech.
"Ole Miss and Florida are the two hottest teams in the SEC, and maybe in the country, right now. We have two Texas-bred quarterbacks leading their respective teams and we have a school like Ole Miss, with all its great tradition, that will be playing in our final game in Cotton Bowl Stadium before we move the Cotton Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium next year. We are also very happy to have Houston Nutt back in Dallas. We feel we have two of the best coaches in the country matched against each other. We can't wait to get everyone to Dallas. We are elated."
Baker, accompanied by Cotton Bowl Media Director Charlie Fiss and Ole Miss Team Host Larry Cantrell, a Dallas businessman who just so happens to be an Ole Miss grad, said it could not have worked out better for the Cotton Bowl.
"Ole Miss was our first choice all along. We were just holding our breath while we were waiting on our turn to select," noted Baker. "We were afraid the Capital One was interested in Ole Miss, and why wouldn't they be? But it all worked out for us."
Nutt's happiness was also apparent.
"This is a great day for us. I wish you could have seen the faces of our players when we told them we were going to the Cotton Bowl," Houston said. "It was a special moment. They thought I was keeping it from them Sunday during practice, but I wasn't. When I told them their first bowl game was going to be the Cotton Bowl and they went crazy. For them to be going to one of the top bowl games in their very first bowl is something very, very special.
"I can't tell you how excited we are because the Cotton Bowl is the best bowl in the country in everything they do, from hospitality to activities. You name it and they do it first class. Every year at the SEC meetings in Destin, the coaches and ADs sit around that table and whoever went to the Cotton Bowl that year talks about what a great event it was and is. I want to thank Rick Baker and his staff for inviting us. We will leave the 26th of December and practice the 27th. We can't wait to get there."
The Rebels will be facing 11-1 Texas Tech, no doubt a formidable opponent.
"I wish Rick had picked us a lesser opponent," Nutt smiled. "We were in the film room today watching them and I'll tell you what, they have done an outstanding job. Graham Harrell is a cool customer, their receivers and backs are excellent, their line is massive and their defense is extremely underrated. I can see why they just lost one game.
"But I'm not going to fret about that too much right now. There's plenty of time for that. We are concentrating on finals this week. We'll start back practicing Thursday for three days, take Sunday off, have a final week of preparation before we let them go home for Christmas and then meet up in Dallas on the 26th."
The Rebels, Nutt said, don't understand the treat they are in for.
"At the Cotton Bowl, it's one great surprise after another for the players. They are going to be like little kids waiting around the Christmas tree to open up packages," he said. "I can't wait to see them experience those things."
The Rebels have pleased their head coach in the early stages of bowl preparations.
"The enthusiasm around here is at a very high level. They are excited and they should be," said Houston. "They are working very hard and we are using this time to not only keep the veterans sharp but to get some extra time with our younger kids. It's like having another spring training and they have accepted that are extremely focused.
"It's been really good so far and we expect that to continue."
Nutt expects the Rebels to be ready to play and motivation will not be a factor.
"We won't have to manufacture motivation for this game. Our players will be excited. The magnitude of the game, the senior leaders, the regular season we have had - all those things will factor in to motivation for this game," Houston assessed. "After we beat Florida, we really didn't know how to handle sucess and we had a setback, but then we got on a roll starting with the Arkansas game.
"From that point on, this team has been ready to play. It's a credit to the leaders of the team. They have kept their focus and concentration and I know that will continue through the Cotton Bowl."
While the Cotton Bowl is going to be a special time for Ole Miss coaches, players and fans, it also has a residual affect.
"From now until January 3rd, the name Ole Miss is going to be mentioned constantly. I am excited about the attention it will draw to our university and our football program. It will pay dividends," Nutt closed. "Our job will be to keep the energy and execution we have shown the past five games bottled up.
"But there are no negatives about this. A great bowl game, a great opponent, a great city and a lot of rewards for a team that deserves it. Can it get any better?"
Cotton Bowl, here come the Rebels!
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