Cotton is great matchup, but settles nothing

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
2:00
PM CT


DALLAS — Arkansas and Kansas State will play on Friday night in a game that's got every bit the worth of a BCS game. Along with Monday night's Fiesta Bowl and the Allstate BCS Championship Game, it's the only matchup with two teams ranked in the single digits.

It'll be played in primetime, on national television, inside America's greatest football palace, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

You can't ask for much more. Kansas State and Arkansas have a combined four losses, and both of K-State's came via top 10 teams. The two teams that beat the Hogs are playing for the national title.

Best of all, it matches up what's clearly college football's two best conferences: The Big 12 and the SEC.

Unfortunately for fans of the game and both leagues, it's only the second time all season that teams from those leagues will play.

And this game, despite looking like one of high quality, won't settle anything between the Big 12 and SEC.

The battle for the nation's top conference is owned by the SEC at the top. LSU and Alabama stated strong cases as the nation's two best teams. The Big 12, though, is a deeper league with higher quality teams in the bottom two thirds.

The league rivalry isn't just about who's best. It's about styles.

To oversimplify: The Big 12 is offense. The SEC is defense.

So when Kansas State and Arkansas are the representatives of the two leagues, we have a problem.

In this game, the rivalry's root is irrelevant.

Kansas State ranks ninth (!) in the Big 12 in total offense. They rely on a grinding offense that focuses on possession and minimizing mistakes, not a high-flying passing game like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or Baylor. It's meant success this year on the back of Collin Klein, who rushed for 26 touchdowns and carried the Wildcats to 10 wins and a second-place finish in the Big 12. It worked. It meant wins.

But it wasn't what you normally see out of the Big 12.

Arkansas, meanwhile? The Hogs rank ninth in the SEC in total defense, but lead the league in total offense behind Tyler Wilson and one of the nation's best corps of receivers.

Maybe these two should have switched leagues for 2011.

Arkansas racked up 2,000 more passing yards than rushing yards, compared to Kansas State, whose rushing attack outpaced the passing game by over 500 yards.

These are two very good teams.

They are not two teams that personify what the Big 12 and SEC rivalry is about.

Arkansas took part in the only other Big 12-SEC matchup this season, beating Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium, 42-38, and erasing a 35-17 halftime deficit to do so.

That's a conference game next year when Texas A&M joins the SEC.

The on-field chances for these two leagues to meet have dwindled. Texas plays at Ole Miss next season, but that's hardly a battle of titans. Texas is on its way up after an eight-win season. Ole Miss will be breaking in new head coach Hugh Freeze after a two-win season in 2011.

All we have left is the Cotton Bowl.

It's a great game, but unfortunately, it's not enough this year. More regular-season matchups between the two leagues might settle this, but for now, we're left to what is essentially chance each year in Dallas, an opportunity to meet and decide annually which is better. The Big 12's been unable to crack the national title game the past two seasons while the SEC has racked up six consecutive national championships.

Two teams that have had success as the antithesis of their leagues will meet in this year's Cotton Bowl.

It could be a classic.

But it won't tell us much about which league is better.

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