When we think of SEC teams, we generally think of great defenses, powerful running attacks, and a quarterback unlikely to throw the ball more than 30 times per game. Sounds like a decent matchup for Kansas State.
But you can toss all those expectations out the window for Liberty Bowl opponent Arkansas, with the exception of that powerful running attack thing. They've got that to go along with a quarterback who threw more than 30 passes five times this season. Yes, Kansas State's defense will be tested again in a rematch of the 2012 Cotton Bowl, this time on a considerably smaller stage.
Arkansas won that game 29-16 even though a much better K-State secondary actually performed quite well against All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson. Senior Brandon Allen isn't quite at that level, but he averages 260 yards per game and went over 400 three times this season. The wide receiving corps has dealt with some injuries and doesn't have any standouts, just several good players in Drew Morgan, Hunter Henry, Dominique Reed and Jared Cornelius.
Of course, the Razorbacks still lost two of those games, which brings us to the hopeful and optimistic section of our preview. There are a lot of reasons to believe Arkansas' defense is terrible, even if it has improved slightly since getting torched for almost 500 yards in a 35-24 loss to Texas Tech.
Two of the SEC's more competent offenses, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, put up more than 100 points combined against the Razorbacks in November after October ended with UT Martin's Jarod Neal throwing for 380 yards in Fayetteville. That's not good. It won't surprise you to learn Arkansas finished dead last in the SEC in passing efficiency defense, total pass yards given up (by a considerable margin) and scoring defense.
So that's the encouraging news. The problem for Kansas State and its throwing-challenged quarterbacks is the Arkansas run defense was actually pretty solid. The 4-3 scheme held Leonard Fournette under 100 yards, limited Alabama to 134 and finished fifth in the SEC with just 3.8 rush yards allowed per carry.
Naturally, they depend on some solid linebackers, notably leading tackler Brooks Ellis and true freshman Dre Greenlaw. The two-time SEC Freshman of the Week has 93 tackles and, according to his roster bio, has read the entire Harry Potter and Twilight series.
The Razorbacks can run, too, with speedy junior running back Alex Collins averaging 116 yards per game behind a dominant offensive line. They've allowed the fewest sacks (12) of any Power 5 conference team and helped their running backs go over 200 yards as a team four times in the last six games.
Those have been far better than the first six, giving Arkansas a pretty strong argument as the best 7-5 team in the country. It's hard to believe these guys lost consecutive home* games to Toledo and Texas Tech.
Finishing strong after awful starts has become something of a trend under Bielema, and last year it even included a 31-7 destruction of Texas in the Texas Bowl. K-State's defense may have to play one of its best games to avoid a similar fate.
*Yes, the game vs. Toledo was in Little Rock, but we all know that's a "neutral site" in name only.