As the 2011-12 College Bowl Season winds down towards the BCS national championship set for January 9th, tonight’s featured match-up in the AT&T Cotton Bowl between the #8 Kansas State Wildcats (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) and the #6 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) will be the final bowl showdown between ranked teams, and certainly a great game to watch and wager on as two of the top squads in the nation look to continue to high-scoring trend we’ve laid witness to in this year’s outstanding bowls.
Though many may continue to question why neither of these teams were allowed to play in a BCS bowl game, as both Virginia Tech and Michigan were given the nod to play in the Sugar Bowl earlier in the week over the higher-ranked Razorbacks and Wildcats, fans shouldn’t be able to tell the difference in magnitude for tonight’s game, which takes place at Cowboys Stadium, one of the most exciting sports venues in the world. Arguably, this match-up will be even better than the Sugar Bowl, with the high-powered passing attack of Arkansas led by Tyler Wilson (%63.1 completion rate, 3422 yards, 22 TDs) pared against the grinding offense of Kansas State, led by dual threat quarterback Collin Klein (1745 yards passing, 12 TDs/1,099 yards rushing, 26 TDs).
The Kansas State Wildcats have one of the most unique offensive approaches in the nation, which has been built to grind out games by wearing down opposing defenses, and has a great combination of threats in the rushing game led by scrambling quarterback Collin Klein and lead running back John Hubert (188 carries, 933 yards, 3 TDs). While Hubert is overshadowed by Klein, who has put the ball on the ground a whopping 293 times this season, the scrappy 5’7″ Hubert looks set to bust through the 1,000 yard mark tonight as well, and will be critical towards the KSU offense staying on the field and controlling the game clock. While Kansas State does not put up huge points with its offense (33.1 points per game, 30th in the nation), or play defense particularly well (allowing 27.8 points), this bend-don’t-break style of play hinges on the team’s time of possession on offense, which ranks 4th in the nation, as well as their ability to play safe with the football, as they’ve issued just 13 turnovers in total all season long. Protecting the ball and keeping it out of the hands of the potent Arkansas offense will be the biggest factor in Kansas State’s ability to hang tough in this game, as they simply doesn’t have enough offensive weaponry to outgain the Razorbacks in yardage alone and win in a straight-up shootout.
For the Arkansas Razorbacks, getting out with a lead early is essential in order to prevent Kansas State from wearing down the game clock on long possessions, and that starts with getting the Tyler Wilson-led passing game getting going right away. The Wildcats are very susceptible against the pass, allowing 267 yards per game through the air and rank in the bottom 20 in College Football in that category, but care has to be taken to avoid interceptions in the face of an opportunistic, speedy squad that is 11th in the country with 18 picks. That puts extra pressure on Tyler Wilson to be careful with his pass selection, and spread the ball around consistently through a wealth of receiver options, led by Jarius Wright (63 catches, 1029 yards, 11 TDs). Arkansas has 4 receivers with at least 492 yards in the passing game, and avoiding becoming too dependent on any one wide-out will help keep the KSU defense guessing throughout tonight’s contest. Though the Razorbacks pass game is potent at 307 yards per game (13th in the nation), their lack of a proper running game is a drawback in match-up against a team that thrives on ball possession. That isn’t to say that Arkansas doesn’t have talent in the backfield, as lead back Dennis Johnson is running at a 6.3 yards/carry clip (101 carries, 637 yards, 3 TDs), whom the Hogs should pound the rock with more in tonight’s game, if only to further open up the options in the passing game. But it’s very telling that in the two Arkansas losses this season to #1 LSU and #2 Alabama, their running game was completely non-existent, putting up a measly 47 and 17 yards in each respective game. The outcome in both match-ups? 24 point losses and an average of just 15.5 points per contest.
Betting Lines for #6 Arkansas vs. #8 Kansas State at TopBet Sportsbook
With Arkansas coming into this match-up as a favorite based on their better offensive attack in terms of scoring and yardage, Kansas State could make for a great underdog play with big odds against them on the money line and a hefty spread to play with. The Razorbacks are a -325 favorite on the money line, and will have to cover 9 points against the spread, which could be tough to accomplish if Kansas State is able to force a few turnovers and wear down the clock with long drives based on Collin Klein and John Hubert putting the ball on the ground time and time again. At +265 odds on the money line, taking a scrappy KSU team to find a way to eek out a win would provide a great payday, even if the risks are large with the Wildcats passing defense so vulnerable. KSU can allow Arkansas to have success in the passing game and not have it lead to an automatic Razorbacks win; make special note that the Wildcats won four straight games as an underdog, while giving up more yardage than they generated in each of those contests. If Kansas State’s relatively stout defensive line (which allows 131.4 yards/game) can shut down Dennis Johnson and force Tyler Wilson to throw all night long, mistakes inevitably will be made, and Kansas State could find a way to scrap out a win by keeping the ball out of Wilson’s hands. With the last betting line for this game on the over/under which stands at 64.5 points (-110 either way), we’ll look for the fact that KSU grinds the ball on the ground to contribute to the points total falling just short of the mark, as Arkansas won’t have enough time throwing the ball to put up monstrous points tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
Arkansas may be the better team stats-wise coming into this contest, but their postseason record leaves plenty to be desired at 12-23-3 all-time in bowl appearances. The Hogs are also just 3-7-1 in the Cotton bowl all-time, but KSU isn’t much better in bowl games, losing three straight (though they’ve split two Cotton Bowl appearances). Kansas State may not look like they have to ability to keep up with the Razorbacks, but in a game where ball possession and turnovers will be key, they stand a much better chance at pulling off an upset than the betting lines suggest. While we’ll play it safe and expect Arkansas to overcome in a closer game than expected, Kansas State should be able to control the clock enough to limit scoring, and keep this one tight enough towards the finish to beat the spread. Arkansas prevails 35-27 in a great game on a great stage at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.