FAYETTEVILLE -- To hear AutoZone Liberty Bowl director Steve Ehrhart tell it, the Liberty Bowl was ready to offer Arkansas a bowl bid after the Razorbacks beat Missouri State in the Sept. 5 season-opener in Little Rock.
The Memphis-based bowl on a 4:30 p.m. Sunday media conference call officially extended to Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long the bowl invitation that became common knowledge known unofficially extended early last week.
The Razorbacks, 7-5, represent the SEC in the 4:30 p.m. Jan. 2 Liberty Bowl in Memphis against the East Carolina University Pirates.
East Carolina, 9-4, represents Conference USA in the Liberty Bowl for the second straight year after defeating Houston 38-32 in last Saturday's Conference USA Championship game in Greenville, N.C.
"We have been following the Razorbacks since the very first game," Ehrhart said Sunday of sending a bowl rep to Little Rock. "I've seen the Hogs play three or four times myself. It was a unanimous decision by our committee basically from early in the season."
When tied to the SEC, as it was much of its 51-year history and recently has been again, the Liberty Bowl secured Arkansas as a Southwest Conference also-ran against SEC also-rans Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia in 1971, 1984 and 1987.
Though Arkansas lost all three, the Tennessee one most controversially including Arkansas called for holding while kicking a field goal and Arkansas' Tom Reed recovering a fumble and handing the ball to the referee who handed it to Tennessee, Arkansas fans poured over the river into Memphis to see the games.
Apparently, they will again.
Long said even with Arkansas' Liberty Bowl presence not made official until Sunday, Arkansas fans have already secured more than 15,000 Liberty Bowl tickets.
The tickets, all $50 each which Ehrhart remarked are inexpensive by today's bowl standards, apparently are selling briskly but Ehrhart asserted, "I do want to say there are plenty of good seats available."
Arkansas fans can purchase tickets online at ArkansasRazorbacks.com with Visa and Mastercard with season ticket holders having through Tuesday to maintain their seating priority.
Liberty Bowl ticket questions can be answered by calling the UA Ticket Office at 1-800-982-HOGS according to a UA press release Sunday night.
Always in the hunt for a SEC team not in a BCS bowl and not picked by the SEC tied in Capital One, Cotton and Outback Bowls, the Liberty Bowl locked on to Arkansas assuming that after a 5-7 2008, second-year coach Petrino's rebuilding Razorbacks would have a 7 or 8-win season.
They did with a 7-5 that almost became 9-3 record with close but no cigars at then No. 1 ranked now 12-1 Sugar Bowl bound SEC East champion Florida and the Nov. 28 overtime loss at Capital One Bowl bound LSU.
With quarterback Ryan Mallett breaking Arkansas passing records at every turn, the Hogs played the exciting Petrino style offense that Ehrhart expected after watching Petrino's Louisville Cardinals beat unbeaten Boise State 44-40 in the 2004 Liberty Bowl.
"We have great respect for Coach Petrino," Ehrhart said. "That game became an instant classic. I think if you ask people around the country, 'Name a handful of the most exciting style of play,' it's the University of Arkansas. Even when Arkansas by the luck of a kick or something came out on the back end, like at Florida and at LSU, they always compete. That is a mark of Coach Petrino. We absolutely know Arkansas will play a bangup game."
"We are very excited to be going to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl," Petrino said. "There is not a person I know with more passion and pride in their bowl game than Steve Ehrhart. I've had the pleasure of coaching it before and know it's a great experience. Our fans will have a tremendous experience. We have a tremendous amount of respect for East Carolina and look forward to the challenge."
Ehrhart predicts East Carolina, coached by Skip Holtz, son of former Arkansas coach and current ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, indeed will be a challenge as the Pirates were in last year's Liberty Bowl losing late to Kentucky.
"Anybody who saw that East Carolina-Houston shootout," Ehrhart said, "saw they had some weapons, too."