Ohio St.-Arkansas Preview

Updated: December 15, 2010, 12:50 PM ET
Associated Press

Ohio State has plenty of experience in BCS bowl games. Arkansas has none.

The Buckeyes also have plenty of experience losing bowl games to teams from the SEC.

The No. 6 Buckeyes seek to beat an SEC squad in a bowl for the first time Jan. 4 when they meet No. 8 Arkansas in a Sugar Bowl matchup pitting two of the nation's top quarterbacks.

Ohio State (11-1) is appearing in its sixth consecutive BCS bowl, having posted a 2-3 mark the last five years and topping Oregon 26-17 in last year's Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes are 1-2 in the Sugar Bowl, where they'll be playing for the first time since beating Texas A&M 24-14 following the 1998 season.

They also took the field at the Louisiana Superdome for the BCS title game Jan. 7, 2008, when they lost 38-24 to LSU, but playing in New Orleans will be a new experience for most of coach Jim Tressel's squad.

"Eighty percent of our team hasn't been there before and they know they're going against a great football team," Tressel said. "Anytime you get to match up two teams in the top 10 you get excited about that opportunity."

Tressel may be less excited about the prospect of facing another SEC school, as the Buckeyes are 0-9 in bowl matchups with teams from that league. Since Tressel was hired in 2001, they've gone 0-3 versus the SEC -- including two national title game losses -- and 5-1 in other bowls.

This game figures to feature excellent quarterback play, as Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett are finalists for the Manning Award, presented to the nation's top QB.

The players present a contrast in styles. While Mallett is a classic drop-back passer who helped Arkansas rack up 338.4 yards per game through the air -- third in the nation -- Pryor is a scrambler who gained 639 yards on the ground in addition to throwing for 2,551.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino sees similarities between Pryor and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who led Auburn to a 65-43 victory over the Razorbacks (10-2) in October.

"Their size and strength and ability to run," Petrino said. "They're both tremendous football players, great leaders and had a lot of success in knowing how to win games."

Pryor has certainly done plenty of winning. The junior has posted a 22-3 record as Ohio State's full-time starter the last two seasons. He's led the Buckeyes to victory in 17 of their last 18 games, including a five-game winning streak to end the 2010 regular season.

"It's great to get victories with these guys," Pryor said of his teammates after beating Michigan 37-7 in the regular-season finale. "There were lots of ups and downs, but way more ups."

Petrino loves his teams to put the ball up in the air, and Mallett has done a terrific job. He's thrown for 7,216 yards and 60 touchdowns in his two seasons in Fayetteville, and had nine 300-yard games in 2010. The TDs over the last two years rank third among players for BCS schools while the passing yards rank second in that span, trailing only Oklahoma's Landry Jones.

Tressel needs no introduction to Mallett, who played for the archrival Wolverines in 2007 before joining the Razorbacks.

"We're very familiar with Ryan Mallett because of course we played against him when he was at the University of Michigan," Tressel said. "In fact, I was hoping we were done with him when he transferred, and here we are getting him when he's at the height of his career.

"He is a tremendous football player, lightning-quick release. Smart as a whip, you can tell just through his numbers the way he's grown into being one of the great, great quarterbacks in all of the country."

Arkansas and Ohio State have never faced each other, but Mallett still views the Buckeyes as a bitter rival.

"It's going to be a fun game," he said. "It's two great teams. Obviously, I had the traditional rivalry hatred (at Michigan). I've still got a little Michigan in me from that. I've never really been a big fan (of Ohio State)."

As for exactly how he feels about the Buckeyes, Mallett said, "I don't know if it's something you can say on air or in the paper."

Arkansas is 1-4 in the Sugar Bowl, with all five appearances coming in the pre-BCS era. The Razorbacks last appeared in the Sugar following the 1979 season, losing 24-9 to Alabama.

While this will be the Razorbacks' debut in a BCS bowl, it won't be a BCS debut for their coach. Petrino guided Louisville to victory in the Orange Bowl following the 2006 season.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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