The ninth edition of the Texas Bowl is surely viewed as a blessing to the bowl organizers. After the last two editions of the bowl drew 50,000 and 32,000 respectively, a Southwest Conference series renewal, a pair of coaches trying to build programs and Bret Bielema going Horns Down for a game week photo op has given the game a spark that belie the fact this is a game pairing up 6-6 teams.
But despite the records, both teams are on the upswing. On Nov. 2, both teams sported 4-5 records but close losses earlier in the season to ranked teams (Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State for Arkansas, and UCLA and Oklahoma for Texas) led to both optimism for the future and thoughts of what might have been in present terms with a bit of luck.
While many bowl projections predicted (hoped for?) a Texas-Texas A&M series renewal, the pairing of Arkansas and Texas offers another longstanding series that has been dormant. Seventy-seven previous games in the series between Arkansas and Texas mark the Razorback's most played series, including the "Game of the Century" in 1969. Since leaving the Southwestern Conference after the 1991 season, the Longhorns and Razorbacks have only met four times, including the 2000 Cotton Bowl. Texas leads the series 56-21 and has won the last two games (2004 and 2008).
As with most any series with that long standing of a history, there has been some spikiness. After then-Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt flashed the Horns Down sign after the 2000 Cotton Bowl, Texas players took it as an affront prior to the 2003 match-up in Austin. Their displeasure did little to help as Arkansas won by 10 to take a three game winning streak in the series. Since that 2003 game, the only meetings were a 2004 return trip in Fayetteville and a 2008 game in Austin. Both of those games were won by Texas.
1Building Into 2015. The 2014 Razorbacks played eight teams who were ranked at the time of the game. Despite not ending their 17-game SEC losing streak until November 15 against LSU, Arkansas was only outscored 177-165 in those eight games against ranked opponents. In the last month of the season, Arkansas dominated LSU and Ole Miss and had close road losses at Mississippi State and Missouri. The 2014 Razorbacks should return around 15 starters, including quarterback Brandon Allen and running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. They will not be a favorite in the SEC West, but should be a middle of the pack West team at worst.
2Tyrone Swoopes versus the Arkansas Defense Swoopes did not enter the season as the projected starter for Texas, but after David Ash was forced to retire due to repeated concussions, Swoopes was thrown in the deep end. A 305-yard passing performance against Oklahoma State looked to be a turning point for Swoopes, but in the final week of the regular season against TCU, Swoopes had five turnovers, including four interceptions. Arkansas' defense has not yielded more than 21 points since Oct. 18 against Georgia and was the only team in the nation to shutout two conference foes and the only team to shut out two ranked opponents, so if Texas hopes to win, it will have to do so by minimizing turnovers and shutting down the Arkansas' offense rather than in a shootout.
3Atmosphere. The early bowl games of 2014 have mostly been sparsely attended and the in-stadium atmosphere's have been lacking. That will not be the case in Houston on Monday as the game sold out on Dec. 18. Combined with the rivalry of the two teams and the late kick-off time, the atmosphere will surely be one of the most cracking of the bowl season.
Arkansas was a team no one wanted to play by the end of the 2014 regular season. The wins over LSU and Ole Miss were major stepping stones and were due to the defense playing like a top-tier SEC defense. The bowl game against Texas will likely start out as a defensive struggle before the Razorbacks pull away in the second half for a 10-point win. Arkansas Razorbacks 20, Texas Longhorns 10