Despite bitter disappointment over being left out of the Sugar Bowl, K-State's matchup with Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl presents an important opportunity for both the Wildcats and the Big 12. For K-State, the matchup presents the chance to prove, once again, that its 10-2 record is no chimera and that it belongs with the nation's other top teams. For the Big 12, it's a chance to put a chink in the SEC's armor and solidify its position along side the Southeastern as the top conference in the nation.
Of course, getting a win in the Cotton Bowl will require that the Wildcats solve the Tyler Wilson riddle, and K-State's defensive strength this season has not been stopping opposing aerial attacks. The Hogs rank 13th in the nation with 307.8 passing yards per game, and Wilson has thrown 22 touchdowns against only six interceptions on the season. Wilson is only 33rd in the nation with 407 attempts, and has an impressive 8.4 yards-per-attempt.
But it's not like K-State doesn't have advantages of its own to lean on. Arkansas was well below average at stopping the run this season, ranking only 80th in the country and giving up 174.3 yards per game. That would put them squarely in the middle of the Big 12 in stopping the run, and K-State averaged 185 rushing yards against Big 12 competition. For what it's worth, the Razorbacks were gashed by Texas A&M for 381 rushing yards. Arkansas was fairly solid against the quarterback rushing game, never allowing an opposing QB to exceed 100 yards rushing.
The Hogs are almost perfectly average in turnover margin, ranking 59th in the country with the same number of takeaways as giveaways on the season. With a +13 margin, K-State has a big advantage here and will need to capitalize against Arkansas. The Razorbacks averaged more than 1.5 turnovers per game, and if they give K-State two extra possessions in this game, the Wildcats will have an excellent chance at getting their first bowl win since 2002.
On the sidelines, you have to feel good about Bill Snyder matched up against anybody, but Bobby Petrino is no slouch. If the results in Liberty Mutual's online contest are any indication, Snyder buries Petrino in a landslide. But alas, that voting will have no effect on the game results. Instead, we'll have to trust that Snyder will use his team's month off to find the weaknesses to exploit in Arkansas' defense. The Scheme Doctor has undoubtedly been putting in some time in the film room the last few weeks. It probably doesn't hurt that Arkansas' defensive coordinator
was fired resigned after the regular-season finale with LSU. The Razorbacks also have a nepotism problem of their own, as Bobby Petrino hired his brother, Paul, as Arkansas' new offensive coordinator at the beginning of December.
We heard just today that Les Miles beat out Snyder for the AP Coach of the Year Award, a disappointment given that Miles coached a team filled with NFL talent and Snyder took a makeshift roster picked to finish eighth in its own conference to 10-2 and eighth in the country. That's not to say that anyone who goes 13-0 in the SEC has done a poor job, but Snyder's work ranks as more impressive in my book. A win in Dallas on January 6th would be another argument in his favor.
Don’t forget to show support for your favorite coach by voting him as the 2011 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year at www.coachoftheyear.com