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Five Cotton Bowl Questions with Arkansas Expats

Two hours hence, you'll get my completely unscientific look at K-State's matchup with Arkansas in the 2012 Cotton Bowl. But to give us more information on the opponent in that game, we enlisted the services of Stephen and John from SB Nation's Arkansas blog, Arkansas Expats. They came through with flying colors. In case you want to harangue me for what I said about K-State, you can see my answers to their questions here.

BOTC: Give us a player or two to watch on both sides of the ball for Arkansas. On offense, we've heard a lot about Tyler Wilson, so make sure to give us a receiver who Nigel Malone and David Garrett will have to keep an eye on.

AE: As you're surely aware, Arkansas is well-stocked with offensive playmakers, so there are plenty of options to choose from on that side of the ball. For starters, though, we'll call your attention to senior WRs Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Wright is the Hogs' all-time receiving leader, and can be both a possession and big play guy, as demonstrated by his 281 yards racked up against Texas A&M. The shifty Adams is a threat to score any time he touches the ball...take this punt return against Tennessee, for example.

As a bonus, we'll also give you Chris Gragg. The junior TE hasn't received as many accolades as the heralded WRs, but he's become a valuable weapon for Tyler Wilson and will usually make a few big drive-extending catches per game.

On the defensive side, you'll probably hear Jerry Williams' name a lot. The senior LB has led the Hogs in tackles during all four of his seasons at Arkansas. DE Jake Bequette is another standout to watch.

BOTC: We saw Oklahoma State start slow after a month off. Has Arkansas' passing game needed time to get untracked this season, or do the Razorbacks usually come out firing on all cylinders?

AE: At various points, the Razorbacks' offense as a whole has needed time to get untracked. In mid-season games against Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, the Hogs' offense came out flat (their defense wasn't much better, by the way). They trailed A&M by 18 at halftime, were down 17-0 in the first half against the Rebels, and Vanderbilt had leads of 21-7 and 28-17 before the Hogs mounted a fourth-quarter comeback.

Arkansas came out of the game much more strongly the rest of the season, but you do have to be concerned about the effects of a more-than-one-month layoff. In last year's Sugar Bowl, the Hogs' receivers dropped way too many catchable passes. That could have been due mainly to nerves, but a similarly long layoff surely didn't help. In short, a sluggish start is definitely something we're worried about.

Hit the jump for more...

BOTC: It's probably been discussed ad nauseum on Arkansas sites, but discuss the Arkansas coaching turnover and what effect, if any, you see it having on Friday's game?

AE: It's really hard to say what effect the changes will have. We'll just have to wait and see. Paul Petrino's replacement of Garrick McGee in the offensive coordinator spot shouldn't be that big of a deal, really. Petrino was the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator in the 2008 and 2009 seasons and has coached most of Arkansas' main guns. And besides, it's Bobby Petrino who calls the plays. Still, according to articles we've read, McGee had a special rapport with the players, and it sounds like his warmth was a welcome antidote to the drill-sergeant personalities that populate this staff.

As the new defensive coordinator, Paul Haynes, formerly of Ohio State, has only had about a month to get familiar with his players. In a recent Q&A, he said that the calls will represent a mixture of former coordinator Willy Robinson's playbook and his. You don't like to see the players and coordinator have to get to know each other in such a compressed timeframe and so late in the season, but the defense took a noticeable step back this year. With Willy at the helm, there was every reason to believe the unit would once again turn in a lackluster effort. With the new guy in town, at least there's a real reason to hope for improvement.

New special teams coordinator Steve Caldwell seems like a solid hire. He's been on the staff for two seasons as defensive ends coach. More importantly, he has

an awesome mustache.

BOTC: K-State is anything but flashy, but it has excelled this year by not beating itself, which usually means limiting turnovers, not committing penalties and controlling the ball. What about K-State concerns you?

AE: First and foremost, we're concerned by Collin Klein's running ability. The Hogs have a long history of being burned by QBs who can run, and Klein will be the best in that department that we've faced all season. Although the introduction of Paul Haynes brings a little hope in that area, we still expect Klein to drive us thoroughly crazy throughout the game and look for him to rack up big numbers with his feet.

Beyond that, K-State seems to excel at hanging around, frustrating the other team and then pulling out clutch wins in the end. Combined with Arkansas' rather miserable bowl record, that could be a recipe for trouble.

BOTC: Turnabout is fair play. Who ya got in the Cotton Bowl?

AE: Arkansas has played terribly in bowl games over the past 25 or so years, winning exactly three of them since the end of the 1985 season. So we're surely setting ourselves up to look like fools by predicting them to win, but predict them to win we will. We usually leave the prognosticating to Rasputin , our manic-depressive staff soothsayer, but since you asked us, we'll say the Hogs will win 37-31. We think it will be something of a wild, nerve-wracking affair - and, as we stated above, we expect to be completely irritated by your quarterback by the time the evening's done - but we say the Hogs pull this one out.