By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
ARLINGTON, Texas — Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg and the Razorbacks are back home on New Year’s Day.
At least, that’s the way the Razorbacks will feel about walking into Cowboys Stadium for their first on-site practice for the Cotton Bowl today.
"I love playing in Dallas," Gragg said in Fayetteville last month. "We count that as a home field, as (Arkansas) coach (Bobby) Petrino says. ...
"We just feel comfortable in there."
The Razorbacks feel invincible, too, after enjoying nothing but success in Arkansas alum and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ immaculate football palace.
Arkansas is 3-0 in Cowboys Stadium, logging wins against Texas A&M in each season the building has been open for business. It included last October’s remarkable comeback, when the Razorbacks rallied from a 35-17 halftime deficit to beat the Aggies 42-38.
Arkansas had to work hard to remain unbeaten in Cowboys Stadium that afternoon. The Razorbacks don’t plan on letting their unblemished record in Arlington slip now, either, when the play Kansas State.
"We haven’t lost a game down there," receiver Greg Childs said during an appearance on the Bobby Petrino radio show in December. "And I don’t think we will."
It’s the type of confidence Petrino wanted his team to carry to Arlington, Texas when it began playing Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic in 2009.
The Razorbacks have since referred to Cowboys Stadium — a billion dollar venue highlighted by its massive video board — as their third home field behind Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville and Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. It has worked well for a university that has long boasted an enormous alumni base and fan following in the Metroplex, too.
"Everybody says it’s like a home stadium," Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. "We get a lot of fans who like to go down there and hang out and have a chance to watch us play. It’s exciting and it’s always a good atmosphere. I think that contributes."
So Arkansas was welcomed back with open arms Saturday afternoon, completing the long bus ride from Fayetteville to the team’s hotel in Dallas.
Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, cornerback Tevin Mitchel and center Travis Swanson were available for interviews after checking in, saying the Hogs are eager to get back to work in Cowboys Stadium today.
"We love Cowboys Stadium," Swanson said. "We consider it a home field. We’re 3-0 there. I know everyone from this team just loves playing in it because it’s just a different environment.
"There really isn’t any place like it."
The fact Arkansas is playing in the Cotton Bowl in a matchup of top 10 teams is largely because of the success the Hogs enjoyed there in October.
Wilson guided the Razorbacks to the impressive win, throwing for a school-record 510 yards. Receiver Jarius Wright played a key role, too, catching 13 passes for 281 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
The win helped Arkansas shake off its frustrating loss at Alabama. It also kicked off a seven-game win streak, which pushed the Razorbacks to No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series standings in time for a regular-season ending showdown at No. 1 LSU.
Wilson called the Cowboys Stadium win "the key game" to "get the ball moving and the team believing" it could play with anyone. Wright said there’s no telling where Arkansas’ season might’ve headed if the Razorbacks fell to 3-2 with a loss to the Aggies.
"I definitely look back on the A&M game and think about that all the time," Wright said. "It basically did shape our year. We could’ve went down from there or it could’ve went up. We worked hard and we fought back and we made the most out of this year."
Petrino believes that come-from-behind win — as well as the other games in Cowboys Stadium — will be an advantage for the Razorbacks in the Cotton Bowl.
Arkansas shouldn’t be fazed by the facility, playing there for the fourth time on Jan. 6. Kansas State, on the other hand, will make its Cowboys Stadium debut.
"We understand what it’s about," Petrino said. "Even when you go down and play the A&M game it’s like a bowl game with the circus that’s going on down there and all the people. It’s a lot of fun."
Petrino and the Hogs need to enjoy the experience because there’s no definitive return in place.
The Arkansas-Texas A&M series isn’t likely to continue at the neutral site with the Aggies joining the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said discussions regarding the site of the game are ongoing, but the Aggies have made it clear they want the series moved to campus.
Arkansas may try to set up another nonconference series in Cowboys Stadium. No deals are finalized.
But Gragg said Arkansas plans to make the most of its fourth trip to Arlington no matter what.
"We count it as a home game," Gragg said about Arkansas’ trips to play in Cowboys Stadium. "We’ve been undefeated at home. We want to stay that way."