In what figures to be a highly competitive Cotton Bowl, the Arkansas Razorbacks of the SEC will do battle with the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12 Conference at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Kansas State closed out the regular season with three consecutive victories to improve to 10-2 overall, and the club nearly knocked off the Big 12's best team, Oklahoma State in early November. The Wildcats' 10 regular season victories were their most since 2003, and just one shy of the school record. K-State is set to play in its 15th bowl game in school history and 13th under Bill Snyder, who is in his second tenure as head coach of the program. The 'Cats are 6-6 all-time in bowls under the legendary coach. Following 11 straight bowls from 1993-2003 under Snyder, KSU has now gone bowling in each of the last two seasons following last year's berth in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.
"It is a tremendous challenge, obviously, when you are facing the No. 6 team in the country," said coach Snyder. "Arkansas is an excellent football team so it is a great format to improve."
Speaking of the Razorbacks, they have reason to be proud of their performance this season, as the only two losses came against Alabama and LSU, the two teams that will square off in the BCS Championship Game. Arkansas is no stranger to the Cotton Bowl, as it will make its 12th appearance in the game, yet just three victories have been earned in the 11 showings to date. Last season, coach Bobby Petrino led the program to its first-ever BCS game, a Sugar Bowl battle with Ohio State that resulted in defeat. Arkansas is making its 39th postseason appearance and owns a 12-23-3 record all-time.
"I am very proud to be the coach of this team, which has stuck together all season long and kept competing," said Petrino upon accepting the Cotton Bowl bid. "The mentality our players have demonstrated is what has allowed us to accomplish all we have this year. We've enjoyed success in Cowboys Stadium and the hospitality and experience the AT&T Cotton Bowl provides gives our team a special opportunity to compete together one more time."
Kansas State has won three of the four previous meetings with Arkansas, but the teams haven't met since 1967.
The Wildcats are only generating 343.4 total ypg, a total that is especially low when considering the fact that the team is scoring 33.1 ppg. They depend heavily on the ground attack to move the ball and score points, as 33 of the 45 offensive touchdowns tallied this season have come via the run. Quarterback Collin Klein is the focus of the offense, as he has rushed for 1,099 yards with 26 scores, while passing for 1,745 yards and 12 TDs against only five interceptions. RB John Hubert has rushed for 933 yards to date, while Chris Harper paces the receivers with 39 catches for 536 yards and five TDs.
Opponents are scoring 27.8 ppg against Kansas State, which is yielding 398.8 total ypg. The team has been solid against the run, permitting just 131.5 ypg. While the Wildcats have come up with 18 interceptions, it is obvious that the pass defense has struggled in many games. In fact, KSU has been victimized for 24 TDs through the air and 267.2 passing ypg. Only 19 sacks have been notched by the 'Cats, who have recovered a mere eight fumbles in 12 outings. Arthur Brown paces the defense with 95 total tackles, while Nigel Malone has notched seven interceptions.
"We are excited about the season that we have had, but we also know that we have one more game to play against a really good Arkansas team," said Kansas State linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. "We are excited to head to the Cotton Bowl and play on national television, and most importantly, work to get our 11th win of the season."
Lamur and his teammates hope to contain a powerful Arkansas offense, as the Razorbacks are racking up 37.4 ppg and 445.8 total ypg. They have scored 49 offensive touchdowns to date, 25 of which have been of the rushing variety, but the vast majority of yards have come through the air. Tyler Wilson has been tremendous under center, as he has completed 63.1 percent of his attempts for 3,422 yards and 22 TDs against only six interceptions. He has a ton of talent at the WR position to work with, and Jarius Wright is the best of the bunch. Wright has racked up 1,029 receiving yards and 11 TDs on just 63 catches, while Joe Adams has posted 630 yards and three scores on 49 grabs. Adams is one of the nation's truly elite punt returners, as he has scored TDs on three of his 16 returns to earn consensus All-American honors.
Arkansas is a rather mediocre defensive team that is permitting 22.8 ppg and 371.4 total ypg to opponents. The Razorbacks are giving up 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, a figure that won't deter Kansas State at all. Of the 31 TDs that have been surrendered to opposing offenses, 20 have been rushing scores. The Wildcats have posted 22 sacks and 19 takeaways, both of which have to be considered modest totals. Jerry Franklin continues to pace Arkansas with 93 total tackles, and he has notched 10 TFL to go along with a pair of fumble recoveries. Jake Bequette is a player to watch up front, as he has notched eight sacks despite missing three games.
"I'm pleased with the preparation of our guys," said defensive coordinator Paul Haynes recently. "Our guys practice hard and they prepare hard, so them playing hard will not be an issue at all."