Missouri draws Arkansas for Independence Bowl spot

Monday, December 8, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri will make its first bowl appearance in five years, playing Arkansas in the Independence Bowl on New Year's Eve.

The Tigers (8-4) return to a bowl game in their third season under coach Gary Pinkel, who said the game was the reward for his players' hard work.

"I've asked an awful lot of my players in the three years that we've been here," Pinkel said. "It's nice to see it pay off a little bit."

It's only the Tigers' fourth bowl game in the past two decades. Missouri played in the Holiday Bowl in 1983 and 1997, then in the Insight.com Bowl in 1998.

"This year is a huge statement of development and progress for our football program," said Ed Stewart, associate athletic director. Football really drives the engine in college athletics. It's tremendous for our coaching staff, tremendous for our kids. It's a remarkable experience."

The announcement was hardly a surprise. Officials had said the Independence Bowl was all but a certainty for the Tigers leading up to Sunday.

The teams even exchanged film last week, anxious to start preparing for the game.

"We decided we'd send it back if it didn't happen," Pinkel said.

Pinkel said he hadn't had a chance to look at the tape much, but did see one of the Razorbacks' early season wins.

"They beat Texas, I know that," Pinkel said. "That got my attention fast."

Missouri has won two of the three games between the teams over the years. The Tigers beat Arkansas 7-6 in 1963, lost 7-6 in 1944 and won 11-0 in 1906.

It's the second Independence Bowl for Arkansas (8-4), which lost 25-14 to Georgia in the 1991 game. The Tigers have never played in an Independence Bowl.

The game will feature two rush-heavy teams. Missouri averages 236 rushing yards and 167 passing yards per game, while Arkansas rushes for 237 yards and passes for 198 yards per game.

Missouri center A.J. Ricker, a senior, said he was looking forward to the chance for seniors to finish their MU career with their first bowl game.

"It's going to be a lot better playing in a bowl than sitting on my couch eating potato chips watching one," Ricker said.

Krupica said Missouri fits the mold of teams the Independence Bowl has been trying to lure.

"Our leadership refocused on how we got where we got growing this bowl game, and that's picking people on the way up, just like Mizzou," Krupica said.

The Independence Bowl is sponsored by MainStay.

"We're just excited about it," Independence Bowl executive director Glen Krupica said. "We think it's a game that all fans can make from both schools, and we think it's going to be one of the best matchups in the bowl business."

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