By Casey Keefe
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Cotton Bowl: #6 Arkansas (10-2) vs. #8 Kansas State (10-2) – 8pm
This is one of the better Cotton Bowls we've seen in recent years. This year's edition between the Razorbacks and Wildcats is no doubt a BCS-quality matchup. A perfect game to be sandwiched in between the smaller BCS bowls earlier in the week and Monday's national title game. Oh, and if you like games featuring contrasting styles (a la the Rose Bowl) then you're in luck.
Looking at this game on paper, you would have to give Arkansas the edge. I admire the brilliant job Bill Snyder has done with the Wildcats this season. Arkansas has better talent—there's no doubt about that. While the Wildcats are throwing a bunch of 3-star recruits out on the field Arkansas on the other hand is loaded with blue-chip talents. But both teams have had equal success this season. It's a credit to how special of a coach Snyder is.
Let's take a closer look at the key factors and questions in this game…
1. Can the Razorbacks defense stop Collin Klein?: Kansas State's Collin Klein is the do-it-all quarterback for the Wildcats. Everything runs through him both through the air and on the air. Klein (1,745 pass yards, 12 TD's, 5 INT's, 1,099 rush yards, 26 TD's) is the definition of a dual-threat quarterback. Arkansas' defense (23 ppga) will be in for a long day if they don't find the recipe to stop Klein… But if they do, Kansas State will no shot to win this game. Klein, for better or worse, holds the key to the outcome of this game.
2. Will Tyler Wilson be Tyler Wilson: Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson (3,422 yards, 22 TD's, 6 INT's) is an all-world talent. He's a true pro-style quarterback with a cannon arm—similar to his predecessor, Ryan Mallett. I don't see any way Kansas State's defense (28 ppga) can slow down Wilson and Arkansas' high-powered attack which averages 446 yards and 37 points per game. The Wildcats only hope is that Wilson doesn't come out with A-game. He's shown the ability to come out a little tight in some of Arkansas' big SEC games this season. Will that be the case against the Wildcats? Or will we see the calm, cool, collected Wilson who picks apart defenses in his sleep?... Time will tell.
3. Performing in the Big Spot: Speaking of big SEC games, Arkansas got blown out in their two biggest tests of the season against LSU and Alabama. Yes, both those losses were on the road against the two best teams in the country—but outside of the first quarter against LSU neither were competitive… Much like Arkansas, Kansas State lost their two biggest games of the season, falling to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Looking at the body of work in the schedules each has faced the one thing you can say is both are battle tested. But come tonight, who will get it done on the field?
4. Coaching Obstacles: While Bill Snyder and his staff were spending the past month preparing for this game, Bobby Petrino was going through hell. Arkansas lost their offensive coordinator (Garrick McGee—UAB), special teams coordinator (John Smith—Weber State) and their defensive coordinator Willy Robinson resigned after four seasons with Petrino. Left to fill in the voids are Paul Haynes (defense), Steve Caldwell (special teams) and Petrino's brother Paul (offense)… You cannot underestimate how big of an obstacle all these changes have been for the Razorbacks—and they all couldn't have come at a worse time.
I respect the hell out of Snyder and the job the Wildcats have done, but I think their season ends on a sad note tonight. Even with all the coaching changes and obstacles put in the way of Arkansas, I think we'll see talent win out tonight.
I expect Klein and KSU's offense to have some success tonight. The one problem is they are so reliant on the running game and it's hard to stick with it and have any success with it when you get behind a couple scores. That's what I think will happen tonight because Kansas State's defense will have absolutely no answer for Tyler Wilson and company. I expect to see Razorback receiver Jarius Wright (1,029 yards, 11 TD's) run free all day in the Wildcats' secondary.
As shaky as Arkansas' defense can be, I think you'll see a big game out of them, especially in the second half when they know the run is coming. And as dangerous as Klein is, he certainly won't set the world on fire with his arm. If and when he's forced to pass, that's when Kansas State's chances really go out the window.
A lot of people don't like Bobby Petrino, but I think you'll see him come out victorious tonight and he'll have no one bigger to thank than his quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Prediction: Arkansas 40 Kansas State 27
Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN
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