By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Ohio State has plenty of experience in Bowl Championship Series games.
The Buckeyes have been selected to play in a BCS bowl six straight seasons and nine times overall, which is the most since the system was put in place for the 1998 season. They’ve played in two BCS title games (2007 and 2008) and beat Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship.
Arkansas, on the other hand, has none as it prepares to meet Ohio State in the 2011 Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4. But the Razorbacks aren’t concerned their lack of big bowl experience will affect them when they take the field in the Superdome.
"We want to represent the (Southeastern Conference)," Arkansas defensive end Damario Ambrose said. "We don’t want to come out there and be like, ‘Oh, well, maybe the SEC isn’t as good as everyone thinks. We want to make sure we come out and we represent for the SEC so that we can show we are the best conference in the nation."
It’s a goal the Razorbacks were striving for in the preseason, when they didn’t shy away from lofty expectations. Arkansas hadn’t enjoyed much success since coach Bobby Petrino took over the program, but believed it had the pieces in place to make a run at an SEC title and play in a BCS game.
The spotlight was on the Razorbacks all season, they believe. And they performed admirably with wins against four teams currently ranked.
So to them, the Sugar Bowl is no different.
"It’s all the buildup," Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said. "But the whistle blows and stuff and it’s still the next game. It’s not really the matter of who you’re playing. It’s how you’re going to play. The fact that you’re the only game on TV that night, we still haven’t dwelled on it. Still haven’t talked about it other than the fact that it’s a show me world and we get to show the world about what we are at Arkansas."
Arkansas will be playing in its biggest bowl since the 1989 season, when Arkansas lost to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. It was the last time the Razorbacks played in a bowl game that pitted two teams ranked in the top 10. It also was a game played before most of the current Hogs were born.
But the Razorbacks understand what it takes to win a postseason game after beating East Carolina in last year’s Liberty Bowl. It helped Arkansas improve to 12-22-3 overall in bowl games.
Arkansas now has a chance to win a bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Of course, beating Ohio State also would signal one of its biggest bowl wins ever.
"It’s one of the best in the Big Ten against one of the best from the SEC," Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love said. "We get to play another big team and really show how good this team is."
Said Ambrose: "It’s fun to know that we’re working towards a big game. It’s going to be nationally televised. Everybody is going to be watching."
Petrino believes facts like that will only help his team as it prepares for the game.
It will be the second time Petrino has coached in a BCS bowl. In 2006, he led Louisville into the Orange Bowl where it beat Wake Forest to finish 12-1 and ranked sixth in the nation in the final poll.
"It’s a lot easier for the focus of the players, the excitement of the players," Petrino said. "The seniors understand that they want to finish out this season and have an opportunity to be one of the better football teams at the University of Arkansas. So being in the BCS game I think is a lot easier to get your team ready for the game."
Arkansas has been counting down the days until the opportunity since the Sugar Bowl matchup was set.
The Razorbacks are 0-3 against Big Ten teams in bowls. Ohio State is 0-9 in bowls against SEC opponents. So one winless streak will end.
Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams said the Razorbacks weren’t paying attention to Ohio State’s struggles against SEC teams, though. All he cared about was its experience playing in big games.
"They have a great history," Williams said. "They’ve been to plenty of BCS games before. So we’ll have to make sure we’re prepared."
Arkansas is scheduled to arrive in New Orleans tonight and will hold its first practice Thursday morning. The Razorbacks will have five workouts in New Orleans to prepare for the game on Jan. 4.
No, the Razorbacks don’t have a recent past loaded with experience in big bowl games. But none of that matters to Arkansas, which will put its efforts into beating Ohio State in its first BCS game.
"We all know about the past," Ambrose said. "But we’re worried about what’s going to happen in the future. This is a great team. We’ll step on the field with anybody. We’re ready to play."