MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Arkansas and East Carolina are set to meet in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2, a game Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino knows well.
Bowl officials on Sunday confirmed that Arkansas will be the Southeastern Conference team playing two-time Conference USA champ East Carolina. It is a return to the postseason for the Razorbacks (7-5), who lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl in January 2008 and missed out on a bowl in Petrino's first season when they went 5-7.
Petrino coached Louisville in the 2004 Liberty Bowl when his team held off Boise State in a thrilling 44-40 victory.
"I've had the pleasure of coaching in it before, and had a great experience ... We're looking forward to everybody coming down and filling up the stadium. I'm excited about the preparation for the game and our team learning how to prepare for a big bowl game. We've got a tremendous amount of respect for East Carolina," Petrino said.
East Carolina wrapped up a second straight visit to Memphis by upsetting No. 18 Houston 38-32 in the C-USA championship on Saturday. The Pirates (9-4) are the first C-USA team to win consecutive league titles since the conference split into divisional play in 2005.
The Razorbacks have a strong SEC tradition to uphold. The conference has won the bowl three straight times with Kentucky downing East Carolina 25-19 most recently.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long estimated ticket sales at probably more than 15,000 already.
"Fans throughout the state of Arkansas can drive to Memphis and be a part of the bowl game experience," Long said. "Many times if we're flying off to Florida or other locations, many of our fans aren't able to travel to be with us."
This may not be what Arkansas wanted in a season that ended with a 33-30 overtime loss at LSU.
Senior defensive end and captain Adrian Davis said he feels good about the Razorbacks fulfilling their goal of earning a bowl invitation.
"Speaking for the team, we're excited about the challenge of playing East Carolina. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go to the Liberty Bowl and to end my college career on a good note with the program heading in the right direction."
Quarterback Ryan Mallett said the Razorbacks will be excited.
"And I know our fans will be there to support us. Our goal now is to take the next few weeks to focus on preparing for this game and then go to Memphis to win it. When I was kid, I watched Arkansas play in big bowl games, and I'm excited to be a part of that tradition," Mallett said.