Jonesboro, Ark., will play host to its Super Bowl on Saturday when No. 21 Missouri arrives for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Arkansas State.
The Tigers are the highest-ranked team the Red Wolves will have faced at Centennial Bank Stadium, which received a multi-million dollar facelift during the offseason.
Excitement about the renovation and christening the revamped stadium by playing host to an SEC squad is expected to energize the Arkansas State faithful and create something of a snake pit for Missouri.
“The atmosphere in Jonesboro, it’ll be big time,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who coached the Red Wolves in 2012. “(Missouri) will have to play well. I’m sure that Missouri’s not taking them lightly, and they shouldn’t be.”
Arkansas State is coming off a 55-6 beatdown at Southern California, but Tigers coach Gary Pinkel didn’t see a lopsided game on film.
The Red Wolves totaled 401 yards and had a more than 11-minute edge in time of possession but were undone by four turnovers.
“The score was very misleading if you watch the film when they played against Southern Cal,” Pinkel said. “I think they really played really well. When you have four turnovers to zero, that kind of gives you misinformation about how close the game was in terms of execution on both sides.”
He expects a tough test in Jonesboro.
“I just think they’ve got a lot more confidence than what you might think,” Pinkel said. “You think of the score, but you also have to think, ‘Well, they played a great football team in a very difficult (place).’”
Missouri tried to get the game moved to St. Louis and will continue exploring ways to get there again, but Arkansas State had no interest in moving the game to neutral site.
“The kids will be really excited for that opportunity,” said Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, who was the Wolves’ offensive coordinator in 2010 and head coach in 2011. “I know the people there will be excited. I think it speaks a lot for coach Pinkel to go there. The people will appreciate it and they’ll be friendly for them arriving and then very excited for the game to get started. It will be a great atmosphere.”
Pinkel hopes enough Tigers fans will travel to offset the excitement of the home fans.
“We would like to have a bunch of fans down in Arkansas State,” Pinkel said. “It’s not that far of a drive, and that would be awesome too. That would be a great situation.”
In particular, Pinkel hopes the Tigers’ faithful in the boot heel and from the St. Louis area will make the trek.
Pinkel said senior center Evan Boehm and senior running back Russell Hansbrough, captains who both suffered sprained right ankles in the opener against Southeast Missouri, remain questionable for the game.