For the first time since K-State won the Big 12 championship in 2003 and played Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, the Wildcats are back in a major bowl game. While a month ago we felt like it should have been the BCS game 500 miles southeast of Dallas, today we know there's nothing wrong with this matchup. Playing a fellow top-10 team rather than a school that was chosen only for its alumni base and TV viewership should make for a much more intriguing matchup. Plus, the game will be nationally televised on FOX and is the only game on in the primetime TV window
K-State will meet the third-place team from the SEC West, the Arkansas Razorbacks. Ordinarily, being the third-place team in your division wouldn't seem like much of an accomplishment, but the SEC West is no ordinary division. Much like K-State, Arkansas' only losses on the season came to the two best teams in its conference in LSU and Alabama, who just happen to both reside in the Hogs' division.
Coached by Bobby Petrino, the Razorbacks are not your typical SEC team because they pass. And they pass well. Arkansas led the Southeastern Conference by a mile in passing yards, averaging 307.8 per game. Georgia was the next best at 244.7. BUT PAWWWWL, THEM NEWFANGLED PASSIN' ATTACKS WON'T WERK AGINST ESSS EEEE SEEE DEFENSES!!! IMMA HANG UP 'N' LISTEN. (All misspelling intentional)
In any event, Arkansas did find success with the passing game, as mentioned above. In the non-conference, the Razorbacks' only game of note was a showdown in Cowboys Stadium against Texas A&M, which the Hogs won, 42-38, after a wild comeback. Hmm, does that sound familiar? Other than the Aggies, Arkansas rolled to easy wins over Missouri State and New Mexico before a surprisingly close game against Troy. Arkansas wasn't particularly competitive against Alabama and LSU in its two losses, losing by 24 in both games, although they led LSU early before the Bayou Bengals got untracked.
Enough with the introductions. Hit the jump for more on the statistical matchups for both schools. For any Arkansas fans who happen by, we'll have information about K-State for comparative purposes, so the jump is worth it for you, too.
Players to Watch
Rushing: John Hubert, 188 carries, 933 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 77.8 yards/game
Passing: Collin Klein, 145-251-5, 1,745 yards, 12 TDs, 145.4 yards/game
Receiving: Chris Harper, 39 receptions, 536 yards, 13.7 yards/reception, 5 TD, 44.7 yards/game
Defensive line: Ray Kibble, 36 tackes, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks
Linebacker: Arthur Brown, 95 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT
Secondary: David Garrett, 78 tackes, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT
Rushing: Dennis Johnson, 101 carries, 637 yards, 6.3 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 63.7 yards/game
Passing: Tyler Wilson, 257-407-6, 3,422 yards, 22 TDs, 285.2 yards/game
Receiving: Jarius Wright, 63 receptions, 1,029 yards, 16.3 yards/reception, 11 TDs, 93.5 yards/game
Defensive line: Byran Jones, 45 tackles, 3.5 TFL
Linebacker: Jerry Franklin, 93 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks
Secondary: Tramain Thomas, 87 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 5 INTs
In news that probably only interests me, Arkansas is almost a mirror image of K-State in defensive statistics. It has a stud linebacker who leads the team in tackes, then a defensive back who is second, and a defensive tackle who trails by quite a bit. Congratulations, you just got a look behind the curtain of how my mind works.
Offensively, you can see what Arkansas is good at, and unfortunately it's what K-State is not good at stopping. Wilson has three receivers who have caught 40 or more passes on the season in Wright, Joe Adams and Chris Gragg. On defense, the Razorbacks have solid numbers, but don't seem to be a particularly disruptive group. They've only forced 19 turnovers on the season, which isn't terrible but isn't outstanding. We really need to avoid safety Tramain Thomas and his five interceptions. Arkansas also ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in sacks with 22.0 on the season. But rest assured that if K-State is forced into the dropback passing game, the Hogs' defensive line will suddenly become a combination of Vince Wilfok, Julius Peppers and Jared Allen.
As the regular readers know, K-State isn't your typical 10-2 team. While the rest of college football now considers time of possession a meaningless statistic, it's almost vital to K-State's success. Thus, we keep track of the matchup in the "hidden-yardage stats" to see if K-State will be able to use its advantage in some of the less obvious areas of the game to its advantage.
K-State: 6th nationally, +13
Arkansas: 58th, +/- 0
K-State: 8th, 35.6 yards/game
Arkansas: 43rd, 45.8 yards/game
K-State: 36th, 43.3 percent
Arkansas: 49th, 41.9 percent
K-State: 21st, 87.9 percent
Arkansas: 29th, 87.0 percent
Time of Possession
K-State: 4th, 33:55 minutes/game
Arkansas: 102nd, 28:14 minutes/game
K-State has an advantage in every category above, and a significant advantage in some. Particularly in turnover margin and time of possession, the Wildcats have important advantages. My feeling is that K-State's probably going to need to be +3 in turnovers in this game to feel like it has a good chance to win. Arkansas turns the ball over more than 1.5 times per game. We need to catch them in one of those games on the high side of that and have Nigel Malone or Garrett step in front of a Wilson pass or two. Or, even better, three. That may be a lot to ask against a quarterback who has thrown only six interceptions in 407 attempts, so maybe we'll need to force a fumble. Or something.
One other intangible that could be interesting is the coaching issue. Arkansas comes into this game with a new coordinator on both sides of the ball. If the Hogs encounter a difficult transition with either of those coaches, K-State could have a DECIDED SCHEMATIC ADVANTAGE with the ol' Scheme Doctor strolling its sidelines in his Nike Cortez shoes.
A final factor merits mention. Both teams have been off more than a month, with Arkansas off a week longer than K-State. The layoff probably favors K-State, because it does not run a timing-based, pass-heavy offense. Arkansas does. If you watched Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday evening, then you noticed that they looked awful in the first quarter against Stanford. Brandon Weeden was all over the map with his throws. It's possible the Razorbacks will face similar issues for at least a little while in Dallas. Of course, given K-State's penchant for woefully slow starts, this may only even things out and result in a 0-0 game after a quarter.
Against most teams I'd say that a month off favors Bill Snyder, who has probably watched all 12 of Arkansas' games three times while walking on his treadmill. But Bobby Petrino is no slouch as a coach himself, however unlikeable he may be after his jobhopping. That said, I'm not sure he needs to get particularly fancy against K-State's defense. Just by making sure his offensive line doesn't blow an assignment against K-State's front four and finding the inevitable seams in K-State's zone defense, Petrino should be able to put Wilson and his receivers in position to make plays.
You're all going to hammer me, but once again I'm predicting a K-State defeat. Of course, maybe that makes you happy, given the incredible number of times I was wrong during the regular season. By my count, I predicted K-State to lose to Miami, Baylor, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. As it turned out, I was 2-5 with those predictions, so maybe it's better that I think the Razorbacks take the Cotton Bowl. Let's call it a 31-24 win for the Hogs. Prove me wrong, Wildcats.