(MATT SLOCUM ~ Associated Press)
DALLAS -- At least Missouri's practice facility for the Cotton Bowl has a big-time feel.
Snubbed by the Bowl Championship Series, the No. 7 Tigers get to work out this week at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in preparation for their Jan. 1 game against No. 25 Arkansas. Players pass a bronze likeness of longtime Cowboys coach Tom Landry on their way into the stadium, and get an up-close view of the distinctive hole in the stadium's roof and the ring of fame most have seen only on TV.
"Not very many guys get to do that," redshirt freshman receiver Jeremy Maclin said Thursday. "Guys might dream of it, but we're actually doing it.
"Sometimes you can't believe it but that's what happens when you're successful."
Although the Cowboys plan to move into owner Jerry Jones' $1 billion dream stadium in 2009, aging Texas Stadium, which opened in 1971, remains an undeniable attraction. It's the luck of the draw for Missouri (11-2), with No. 25 Arkansas (8-4) practicing at SMU Gerald Ford Stadium. The Cotton Bowl alternates practice sites each year between representatives from the Big 12 and SEC.
Still, the situation can only help the school's wounded psyche. Missouri was No. 1 before losing 38-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game and plummeted six spots in the poll and was passed over by the BCS games.
Coach Gary Pinkel said players initially misunderstood the itinerary, thinking the Tigers would be working out at the Cowboys' practice facility. Not such a big deal.
"Then they found out later on we were practicing in the stadium and their eyes got really big," Pinkel said. "This is an historic site. You think of Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and all those great Dallas Cowboys teams."
Pinkel, 55, recalled attending a coaching convention at Texas Stadium several decades ago.
"I remember looking out at that stadium and I was only 28 years old at the time, but I was awed by it," Pinkel said. "Great historical stadium, and we're happy and excited to be practicing here."
For one player, though, it's a bit old hat. Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel estimated he's played in the stadium at least a dozen times, the last time as a high school senior when he led Southlake Carroll High, a Dallas suburb, to the Class 5A state championship.
How did you do in that game? he was asked. "We won," Daniel replied.
His personal homecoming no doubt is a bigger deal. His house is about a 20-minute drive from Texas Stadium, and not much farther from the Cotton Bowl. And his father has paid off on a preseason incentive to winning Missouri's first Big 12 North title, buying his son a new Lincoln truck.
"It sort of progressed to a car over the year," Daniel said. "At the beginning of the season he said 'I'll have something special for you."'
This is Missouri's fourth bowl in five seasons under Pinkel, and it's a decided step up after a last-minute loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl last year and appearances in the Independence Bowl in 2003 and 2005. The Tigers are playing on Jan. 1 for the first time since the 1970 Orange Bowl and have a chance to reach 12 victories for the first time in school history.
"It's definitely better than Shreveport, definitely better than the Sun Bowl, too," Maclin said. "Against a better team, too. I know it's a very much anticipated game and I'm just ready to go out and play."
The Tigers are going to make sure they enjoy the lead-up to game day, too, with a number of activities scheduled. The school's outbound flight out of Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday was delayed for three hours by mechanical difficulties and Pinkel, who's mellowed considerably in recent seasons, said he didn't mind.
"I've become such a patient person that there really wasn't any issues," Pinkel said.
Maclin leaned on "distraction control." He wasn't talking about an Ipod.
"You've got to shift into that mode and just accept it as it comes," Maclin said. "You can't change it, you can't do anything about it. We're here, so that's all that matters."