(TIM SHARP ~ Associated Press)
DALLAS -- Last Jan. 1, Missouri players were on their couches gorging on the action and recovering from a last-second Sun Bowl loss a few days earlier.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon recalls spending the day channel-surfing at a friend's house in Jasper, Texas. He also recalls oversleeping the early-starting Cotton Bowl, set for 10:40 a.m.
"Just hanging out, chillin'," Weatherspoon said. "I did sleep in. I won't be sleeping in this year."
The No. 7 Tigers (11-2) are part of the extravaganza this year, with Tuesday's leadoff-man matchup against No. 25 Arkansas (8-4) the school's first New Year's Day appearance in 38 years. That soothes the pain of being No. 1 one week and left out of the BCS picture the next.
Missouri's last major bowl appearance was the Orange in 1970, a 10-3 loss to Penn State to wrap up a 9-2 season, and though it's the fourth postseason trip in five years for the Tigers, it's only the sixth since 1983. They've played in the Cotton Bowl only once, in 1946.
"If they would have told us at the beginning of the year we'd be 11-2 and going to the Cotton Bowl, that would have been the best thing we'd ever heard," defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams said. "How it felt for us, it was a little disappointing early on.
"But now, no way."
Of course, they'd rather be winding up the evening's festivities at the Sugar Bowl. Williams recalls waking up at halftime of last year's Cotton Bowl.
"It would be a little bit cooler if you were the last game, but it's still a great situation," Williams said. "We've got a great opportunity to play against a great team, and we're really excited about it."
Missouri's heavy Texas contingent makes it easier to love this game. There are 18 players from Texas on the squad, six of them starters.
Texas is a prime recruiting territory for coach Gary Pinkel, who has five coaches assigned to the state. Quarterback Chase Daniel, fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting this year, was a high school star at the Dallas suburb of Southlake. According to Rivals.com, half of the 18 commitments for next year come from Texas prospects.
Getting to the Cotton Bowl, which is angling for a return to BCS prominence when it moves to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' $1 billion stadium in 2010, can only help them in the state.
"Winning at a high level, that attracts kids," Pinkel said. "Hopefully we'll get benefits not only this year but in years to come. It's real important to us."
Everyone with the team has raved about hospitality that has helped them stay loose, from a Texas two-step party to the 400 pounds of prime rib made available to the 105-player traveling squad at a local restaurant.
"It's been great," wide receiver Will Franklin said. "Everything has been top-of-the-line treatment. It makes us feel welcome."
It's the reward for one of the best years in school history. Missouri is tied for the school record in victories.
Pinkel put the team on a game-week schedule after they arrived in Dallas on Wednesday to keep them focused, although he wants them to have fun, too.
"They deserve to have a good time," Pinkel said. "The motivation for the game, how important it is, will lend itself to where hopefully we can play our best game."