Dallas Colleges: Tyler Wilson
But before any of them stepped foot in Indy, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. released his pre-Combine Big Board . Naturally, it's loaded with SEC players. Twelve of the 25 players on Kiper's Big Board are from the SEC, including six of the top 10 players.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones kept his place in the No. 1 spot, while Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel jumped in front of teammate Damontre Moore to move from No. 3 to No. 2.
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd made a major move up Kiper's rankings, moving from No. 15 to No. 8.
Here's where all 12 SEC players ranked on Kiper's Big Board heading into the Combine:
1. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
3. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
6. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
8. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
10. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
12. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
15. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
16. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
18. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
21. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
25. Matt Elam, S, Florida
Kiper also updated his position rankings this week. Twenty-eight SEC players made Kiper's position rankings, and the league was represented by at least one player at every position, except fullback.
Here's where Kiper put SEC players in his position rankings:
4. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
3. Jordan Reed, Florida
1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
3. D.J. Fluker, Alabama
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama
3. Larry Warford, Kentucky
4. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
2. Barrett Jones, Alabama
1. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
4. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
3. Kevin Minter, LSU
5. Jon Bostic, Florida
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
4. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
5. Cornelius Washington, Georgia
1. Dee Milliner, Alabama
3. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
2. Matt Elam, Florida
4. Eric Reid, LSU
5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
2. Caleb Sturgis, Florida
2. Brad Wing, LSU
Long gone is the top-10 national ranking and the talk of possible BCS title contention. That has been replaced by speculation about who the next coach might be and whether the Razorbacks (1-3) will even make a bowl game after dropping three consecutive games to Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama and Rutgers.
It's still early in the season and the Aggies (2-1) are preparing for just their second Southeastern Conference game. In their first SEC tilt, they put up a respectable showing against then-No. 24 Florida, a team that is now 4-0 and 11th in the rankings.
The Aggies didn't win that game -- falling 20-17 -- but showed that they could compete with a quality SEC team. When they meet the Razorbacks on Saturday, it will be A&M's first SEC West Division game. In reality, it might be too early to call anything a "must-win" but if the Aggies are to earn the respect they seek from those in SEC country, let alone nationally, that means winning games in situations like these: a home game versus a struggling ballclub against whom they're favored.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin warns that because the Razorbacks are struggling, it could make them tough to deal with.
"They're coming in here, they've got a lot to prove," Sumlin said. "The old deal, 'A wounded animal may be the most dangerous one,' I think it applies in this case. But we've got a lot to play for too."
The Aggies do have plenty at stake. For starters, they'd like to notch that first SEC win, something they expected to do against Florida. If they have their sights set on a bowl game -- or beyond -- a win Saturday would help immensely, because the schedule doesn't get any easier.
Oh, that's right, I found a financial glossary and hit the motherload of terms I can throw around with little context or meaning. Which I just did.
Now, it's time to provide a few things across the Big 12 with context and meaning, but also with wildly fluctuating stock prices.
Rising: Bryce Hager
Falling: Oklahoma's home prowess
You saw the history-making win on Saturday night when Kansas State became the first ranked team to beat Oklahoma in Norman under Bob Stoops. But could we be seeing the official end of a trend? Oklahoma lost two games in Stoops' first 75 games at Owen Field. After last week, the Sooners have lost two of their last five games at home, and one of those wins came over FCS Florida A&M. Oklahoma needs to flex a little at home late this season, or else that Owen Field mystique will officially be gone.
Rising: Kansas' strength of schedule
Jeff Sagarin's ratings are one of a handful of computer rankings that factor into the BCS rankings, and schedule strength is a big part of his rating. So far, Kansas has played the toughest schedule in the entire Big 12 by a long, long way. The Jayhawks, despite playing FCS South Dakota State, have the nation's No. 51 schedule. TCU has been the Jayhawks' toughest opponent to date, but KU also lined up against Rice and Northern Illinois, losing both games. The Big 12's next-toughest schedule? Kansas State, at No. 81. Those numbers will be rising soon as Big 12 play hits its full stride, but the numbers tell us what we already know: The Big 12's nonconference schedule is all kinds of sorry.
Falling: Texas Tech's strength of schedule
The worst offender for that schedule? Texas Tech. The Red Raiders travel to Iowa State this weekend after taking care of a rather scrumptious platter of nonconference cupcakes. Tech easily dispatched Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico before last week's bye, and Sagarin's ratings say that's the nation's 164th-toughest schedule. That's especially eyepopping considering there are only 124 FBS teams. Still, Tech's apparently been impressive enough in those games to be sitting at 18th in Sagarin's ratings, one spot ahead of West Virginia. That's what happens when you lead the nation in total defense and sit at No. 2 overall in total offense.
Rising: Nick Florence
Had enough of Florence's big plays yet? Get used to it. Florence has 11 completions longer than 30 yards this season, and he's done it in just three games. Only Arkansas' Tyler Wilson has thrown more, and Florence has two more than the next-best in the Big 12: West Virginia's Geno Smith.
Falling: The Big 12's 'No Interception' pool
There are officially only two quarterbacks left in the Big 12 pool: West Virginia's Geno Smith and Texas' David Ash. TCU's Casey Pachall threw his first interception of the season against Virginia last week, but get this stat: Smith, Ash and Pachall are the nation's three leaders in passer rating. The Big 12 continues to be the place where quarterbacks come to play. The Big 12 has two quarterbacks left in the pool, but there are only 14 starting quarterbacks left in college football who haven't thrown an interception. Outside the Big 12, only four of those are from BCS conference teams (Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; Kain Colter, Northwestern; Cameron Coffman, Indiana; AJ McCarron, Alabama)
No big surprises in my Saturday location: I'm heading to Norman to see the Sooners and Wildcats tangle in a Saturday night prime-time showdown.
Here's who I've got in this weekend's games:
Last week: 8-0
Season record: 22-3 (.880)
Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are off this week.
Baylor 41, Louisiana-Monroe 28: I don't buy the upset potential here. Tyler Wilson looked fine against the Warhawks before he got hurt. Nick Florence should do the same. Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese give Louisiana-Monroe fits. The Bears will take care of business and have too much offense, though Kolton Browning will make plenty of plays to make Baylor's defense sweat.
No. 8 West Virginia 55, Maryland 17: Maryland is better this year under Randy Edsall, but not good enough to make this a game. West Virginia is playing like a top-10 team and will keep it going to close out nonconference play. Stedman Bailey will grab two more touchdowns and Tavon Austin will hit double digits in receptions once again. Business as usual for the 'Eers.
No. 17 TCU 44, Virginia 20: Gary Patterson is not sweating the turnovers from last week because the fumbles were so out of character for his team. The Horned Frogs will prove it this week, dominating the line of scrimmage against the Cavaliers. Matthew Tucker will clear 100 yards easily, and Skye Dawson will finally get in the mix after a Week 1 suspension and quiet game at KU last week.
Kansas 28, Northern Illinois 27: This was by far the toughest pick of the week. Ultimately, I think NIU is a bit overrated based on its reputation this season and won't be able to stop Kansas' running game. Tony Pierson and James Sims are quite the duo in the backfield, and Sims will be fired up after returning from suspension. He's ready, and KU will get a big win on the road against the Huskies. Dayne Crist should learn from his mistakes and make a couple of big throws late, instead of interceptions.
No. 6 Oklahoma 37, No. 15 Kansas State 31: This is (obviously) my game of the week. Come back later today for a video explaining why I picked the game to play out like this.
It's almost time for hundreds of media folk to pile into a swanky ballroom and kick off another year of SEC media days.
The festivities begin Tuesday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., and last until Thursday afternoon. The event serves as the unofficial kickoff to SEC football season.
So what should we be on the lookout for this year?
Well, the biggest news is all the star power that won't be making the trip. Two of the league's top rushers -- Marcus Lattimore and Christine Michael -- won't be in town. Yes, they are both coming off season-ending injuries, but so is Arkansas' Knile Davis, and he'll be in attendance.
One of the league's best, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray won't be in Hoover, either. Nor will Bulldogs wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Some other big names not on the list include Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
There are a lot of interesting storylines revolving around all those players, who serve as faces for their respective programs, and it's disappointing that they won't be around this week.
However, some quality names are on this year's roster, including Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw.
I'm sure they'll all have plenty to say and should keep us all entertained.
Here are some other things to keep an eye on this week:
- If you're coming into town, make sure you bring your protective gear for Thursday. That's when Alabama's up, and you'd better believe the lobby will be jam-packed with Tide fans. They come out in full force and expect things to be even tighter this year after that championship.
- Arkansas players will have to answer a lot of questions surrounding their former coach, Bobby Petrino. How much of a distraction will his exit be this fall?
- Also, what will new Arkansas coach John L. Smith say? He sure knows how to make a news conference exciting, so don't expect anything to be different in front of all those SEC scribes.
- One coach not afraid to put on a show while at the podium is South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach has been chirping this year, and he probably won't stop in Hoover.
- Last year, there were a lot of questions about the quarterback talent in this league. This year, that isn't the case, as the league is as plentiful at the position as it has been in years.
- Although only Davis will be in town, expect a lot of talk about three of the league's best running backs all coming off major, season-ending injuries.
- Georgia has had an eventful offseason away from the field, and it's time to see how players and coach Mark Richt are feeling about all of the silly distractions. Also, what's in store for the Bulldogs' running game now that Isaiah Crowell is gone?
- I wonder how many times Nick Saban and his players will be asked questions about comparisons to the 2010 team. You know how much Saban loves comparison talk. ...
- Tennessee coach Derek Dooley should field a lot of questions about his job security this week. Regardless of how you feel about the time he's had and all the issues he's had to deal with, his seat is hotter than ever.
- Texas A&M and Missouri are now officially members of the SEC. How will their players and coaches react to being surrounded by all those SEC writers? And how many more questions will they get about adjusting to their new conference?
- LSU was on top of the college football world until last year's national championship. The Tigers bring back a boatload of talent, but can they finish things this year?
- The good news for Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee is their coaches won't have to deal with NCAA questions, unlike last year.
The Aggies' move to the SEC was more about having the program grow in brand-new soil, whereas Missouri's move was more about conference stability.
Will the Aggies thrive? SEC blogger Chris Low and Big 12 blogger David Ubben go head to head to find out.
Chris Low: OK, David, let's not tiptoe around. This is a big-boy conference in the SEC with big-boy stakes. I know everything is supposedly bigger in the state of Texas, but do the Aggies really know what they're getting themselves into? For one, they tend to play all four quarters in the SEC. Judging by what I saw from the Aggies last season, somebody might want to remind them that there is a second half. Come to think of it, that's not very hospitable of me. I take that back. But, honestly, how do you think the Aggies will handle the grind of this league?
David Ubben: Now, now, Chris, that's not very nice. The Aggies are ...
As one final tribute to Texas A&M, I elected to forfeit the second half of that sentence.
In the early running, Texas A&M's going to have a lot of issues. Losing the volume and quality of talent they did in 2011 will hurt, especially on offense, as the program moves into a league -- and, particularly, a division -- known for defense. Ryan Tannehill wasn't great last year, but his experience helped, and Jeff Fuller and Cyrus Gray are a pair of NFL players that don't roll around every year.
I like the talent on campus at A&M a lot, though. They're just going to be young for now. With what they have now, they'll get better and better, as long as Kevin Sumlin does well. Based on what we've seen from his career, I think he will.
Are you buying that? I strongly lean toward no, but I could see it happening. What do you think? Is playing in the SEC going to be a draw for Texas kids? Why or why not?
CL: I absolutely think the SEC will be a draw for some Texas recruits who see it as a chance to stay in the state and still play their college football and also be able to do it against SEC competition. That's a pretty sweet proposition: Stay close to home in the football-crazed state of Texas and compete in the football-crazed SEC, which has a standing order with the sculptor who designs that crystal trophy every year for the BCS national champion.
There's also another side to this story. The boys in the SEC think their chances of going deep into the heart of Texas and landing elite prospects are better than ever with Texas A&M joining the league. Rival coaches can tell mamas and daddies (that's the way the Bear used to say it) that they'll be able to keep up with their sons just like they were in the Big 12 with the Aggies now part of the SEC family, although the recruiting atmosphere in this league isn't very family-oriented. Just ask Urban Meyer. He got so tired of the recruiting shenanigans in the SEC that he's now pulling his own in the Big Ten, according to some of his new brethren there.
That leads me to my next question: Has anybody informed the Aggies that the rules are a little different in the SEC? Unlike the Big 12, it's not the first team to 40 points that wins.
DU: For the record, the league changed those rules for Baylor-Washington in the Alamo Bowl. First to 60 wins now, but that's irrelevant news for the Aggies.
A&M's front seven's actually been really good these past two years, but this year, it was the secondary that let the team down. The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks, but the team wasn't happy that it took a lot of risky blitzes to get those sacks. The defensive line wasn't the unit applying the pressure most often — it was linebackers and defensive backs. That meant a lot of big plays in the passing game; the Aggies ranked 109th nationally in pass defense, giving up more than 275 yards a game. Now, they won't see the same caliber of quarterbacks in the SEC, but we will see if the front seven can handle the power of teams in the SEC West, which, to their credit, do have a handful of quarterbacks with a lot of potential. Tyler Wilson's great now. AJ McCarron and Kiehl Frazier could be elite soon.
We'll see what new defensive coordinator Mark Snyder can fix.
On the flip side of the recruiting debate, how much do you think SEC teams will try and slide into Texas? Could we see some collateral damage in the Big 12? Will the SEC one day take over the world? I heard Nicolas Sarkozy already has a special security detail in place in case Mike Slive comes after him.
CL: I'm not sure about taking over the world. It's just college football that the SEC one day would like to own. Some might suggest it already does.
Arkansas and LSU will probably be helped the most in terms of going into Texas and getting players. Other schools in the SEC might be more apt to target players in the state of Texas and make a push for those select players, but I don't think you're going to suddenly see a mass of teams in the SEC setting up camp in Texas on the recruiting trail. There's no need to when you look at how bountiful the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina are in most years.
You mention some of the quarterbacks in the Western Division. It's fair to say that this wasn't a quarterback's league this season, and I also realize that the Big 12 has produced some quarterbacks over the last few years who've put up Xbox-type numbers.
DU: I think so, eventually. They know they have to, which is huge. They've seen how teams succeed in the SEC, and it's with defense.
If you invest in something, especially with the resources A&M has, good things will happen. Don't forget, the Aggies defense was really, really good last year. The athletes are there. For A&M, it's about putting it together.
CL: With all due respect, "really, really good" on defense in the Big 12 is entirely different than being "really, really good" in the SEC on defense. The more I watch this conference, the more it's ingrained in me that you're never going to win at a high level unless you can run the ball, stop the run and consistently win the turnover battle. Everything else is window dressing. I understand that's not exactly rocket science, but being able to run the ball creates a mindset that positively impacts your entire team. The same goes for playing good run defense.
So if I were offering any advice to the Aggies as they make the big jump, it would be to fortify their offensive backfield and recruit like crazy in the offensive and defensive lines. There's no such thing as too much depth in the SEC.
Having a little Texas flavor in the SEC is exciting. I know you're on record as saying the Aggies might struggle next season. But over time, I think they have what it takes to be an upper-echelon team in the SEC. Of course, that's the beauty of the SEC. So does everybody else in the league.
DU: Oh, there's no respect due when we're talking Big 12 defenses. The best in the SEC are on another stratosphere from the best in the Big 12.
Your game plan sounds like what I'd recommend, but it's easier said than done. Like Mizzou, A&M will have to start mining some of those junior colleges down south like the rest of the SEC West.
Generally, I'd agree with you on A&M's long-term prospects. The Aggies will win less than they did in the Big 12 ... which is to say not much. But they could put it together and have a huge year every now and then. I don't see them surpassing Texas as a program, but they're on their own now.
For some Aggies, that's enough. Next year, the Aggies will struggle, but watching them grow and try to build a new program will be fascinating.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Arkansas proved it was the better team on Friday night with a performance solid enough to keep Kansas State at an arm's length for most of the night.
Time for some analysis. Plenty more on the way tonight.
How the game was won: Neither team brought its A game, but Arkansas' defense played one of its best games of the season and the Kansas State offense didn't do enough to chase down the Hogs, who jumped out to a 19-0 second-quarter lead, and a late third-quarter score helped put the game out of reach before Kansas State's Anthony Cantele missed a 43-yard kick with 6:36 to play.
Turning point: Kansas State took the momentum with 16 consecutive points to get within 19-16 less than four minutes into the second half, but the Hogs' Tyler Wilson put together a huge drive, going 58 yards in 11 plays to put the lead back to 26-16. He capped it with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton and completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards on the drive, thanks to penalties.
Stat of the game: Kansas State rushed 40 times for 86 yards. That average of just over 2 yards per carry isn't good enough for K-State's run-oriented offense to have a chance. Credit Arkansas' defense on that one.
Second-guessing: Kansas State's decision to punt to Joe Adams. He was dangerous more in the first half, but he broke a 51-yard return for a score to put Arkansas up 10-0. Kansas State should have known better or avoided him more deliberately. You don't need to look far to see why.
What it means: Arkansas becomes the fourth consecutive SEC team to win the Cotton Bowl and grabs the third 11-win season in school history and first since 1977, a year after making the school's first BCS bowl. Coach Bobby Petrino has the Hogs rolling. They'll come back in 2012 with plenty of potential to chase after an SEC title. Wilson loses three of his top four receivers, but he proved his worth as a quarterback this season.
Kansas State finished with 10 victories, its first double-digit win season since winning the Big 12 in 2003. The Wildcats' pluckiness ran out in this one, and they couldn't earn a seventh win as an underdog this season.
Record performance: Collin Klein became the Big 12's single-season leader for rushing touchdowns with a 6-yard run in the third quarter for his 27th of the season, tying Texas' Ricky Williams.
Record performance II: Adams' first-half punt return was his fourth on the season, giving him the SEC single-season for punt return touchdowns. He has five for his career.
Williams remained on his back after the play in the closing seconds of the second quarter.
Medical personnel tended to Williams on the field for several minutes before putting him on a stretcher, then on a cart. Williams gave a thumbs-up signal while being placed on the cart, then extended his right arm high and flashed a Wildcats sign.
Williams was pursuing Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who ducked to avoid being hit. Williams then made contact with linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who was coming from the other side.
There was no immediate word of Williams' specific injury or condition.
The Wildcats' play all season has been marked by precision and a lack of mistakes. The result was 10 wins. In the first half, they've been penalized four times and have turned the ball over. They're getting beat in the special teams, too, giving up a huge play on a punt return.
Arkansas has to be feeling good about that half, with the exception of a late fumble.
K-State also had a scary situation late in the half. Defensive end Meshak Williams took a helmet-to-helmet hit from teammate Emmanuel Lamur and had to be carted off. Medical personnel removed his face mask and were stabilizing his neck, according to sideline reports.
Time for some further analysis.
Turning point: Joe Adams' punt return. He's the most electrifying player in this game by a long shot, and he showed why with a shifty 51-yard punt return. His fourth return for a touchdown in 2011, and fifth in his career, tied the single-season SEC record and totally turned the first half. Arkansas' offense hasn't been great, but Adams got the crowd going. Yeah, he got some help from a block in the back (or two), but nobody was catching him on that play. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl since 1961.
Turning point II: Tyler Wilson's fumble in the final minute of the half. It gave Kansas State some hope heading into the locker room in what was otherwise an ugly, ugly first half. Kansas State took advantage, hooking up for a 3-yard touchdown pass on a pretty rollout throwback play to Andre McDonald to cut the lead to 10 heading into halftime.
Best player (s) in the half: Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette and Joe Adams. Sometimes, all it takes is two big plays. The first half's been pretty ugly, but Bequette forced a sack/fumble in the K-State red zone, and Adams swung the game on the aforementioned punt return. Adams has almost broken a couple, and Bequette's been consistently disruptive, too.
What Kansas State needs to do: Collin Klein, for whatever reason, has been tentative to take off in the pocket, and he's already thrown too many passes without a ton of effectiveness. He's relied on his arm perhaps a bit too much tonight when he's had opportunities to run. That has to change, especially in a half when they're likely to be dropping back to throw quite a bit.
What Arkansas needs to do: Keep testing K-State's defense deep. It hit Wright for a 45-yard score and nearly had Joe Adams for one from 70-plus yards. The Hogs opened a window for K-State with the late fumble, and the Wildcats climbed through it. Arkansas can slam the door shut with a couple big plays in the second half.
Contain Collin Klein: The Razorbacks weren't great at stopping the run this season and Klein knows how to frustrate defenses with his legs. Kansas State's quarterback threw for just 1,745 yards, but he rushed for 1,099 yards and led the Big 12 with 26 rushing touchdowns. Arkansas finished the regular season ranking ninth in the SEC in rushing, allowing 174.3 yards per game. Making sure Klein doesn't extend plays with his legs will be crucial for Arkansas' defense.
Get the running game going: While the Razorbacks' defense will need to contain Kansas State's best runner, Arkansas must also get its running game going. The Hogs' running game was inconsistent for the first part of the year, but seemed to come together in the second half of the season. In order for Arkansas' offense to truly produce, it has to be balanced with the rush and the pass. Pounding the ball with Dennis Johnson will be key, as it should help to wear down that pretty solid Kansas State rushing defense and will definitely open up Arkansas' passing game with stud quarterback Tyler Wilson.
Avoid a slow start: The Razorbacks seemed to get too comfortable during the midpoint of the season and had a knack for falling behind early. That can't happen today. Kansas State has had a wonderful year under coach Bill Snyder and chances are that the Wildcats aren't going to relinquish much of any lead the Hogs give them as they try to end the year on a special note. Arkansas needs to come out fast and put its foot on the Wildcats' throat early if it can.
1. Absolutely slow the big plays. K-State's been blown out once all season. Oklahoma did it with touchdowns of 61, 31, 29 and 18 yards in a 58-17 win. Arkansas has the capability to blow Kansas State's doors off, but the Wildcats have proven mostly capable of at least slowing or keeping up with high-octane offenses like Baylor and Oklahoma State. Arkansas' not quite on that level, but the Razorbacks are really potent. The biggest way to let this get out of hand is pretty simple: Quick scores and yardage coming in chunks.
2. Grind, grind, grind. We all know there ain't nothin' wrong with that. Even in the Big 12. Kansas State's a unique team, but it may finish this game with two 1,000-yard rushers. Collin Klein's already there, but running back John Hubert -- far underrated in his own right -- needs just 67 more yards to cross that mark. He's averaging nearly 5 yards a carry. This running attack can wear down Arkansas' defense, but the less the Hogs have the ball in their hands, the better for K-State. The Wildcats are fourth nationally in time of possession for a reason. They run the ball, and they've turned the ball over just 13 times in 12 games. Five teams have fewer turnovers.
3. Snyderball, baby. This is what K-State does. Chances are high it gets outgained in this game. That's nothing new. Earlier this season, it won four consecutive games in which it was both an underdog and outgained. This will almost certainly be another one. It wins by making defensive stops and forcing turnovers, and capitalizing on special teams play. Kick returner Tyler Lockett, who took two kicks back for scores, is the only piece missing. He's out with a kidney injury. Raphael Guidry loves to block kicks (he's got four this year) and Anthony Cantele's been solid in the placekicking game. K-State knows to win where it counts most. This team, especially.
We're ready to go for the final Big 12 game and the last big bowl before The Big Bowl on Monday night, the AllState BCS National Championship Game.
But for now, it's time to preview tonight's game between No. 8 Kansas State and No. 6 Arkansas. They'll get started at 7 p.m. CT at Cowboys Stadium on FOX.
WHO TO WATCH: Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. He's the guy that makes everything run for Kansas State's offense. The Wildcats go as he goes. He's improved as a passer throughout the season, and with his legs as the offense's primary threat, it opens up easier throws down the field. Arkansas' defense has to make sure he's contained at all times, and make sure it tackles well. He's proved how tough he is to bring down all season, and Arkansas will find out just how difficult it can be tonight.
WHAT TO WATCH: Tyler Wilson vs. Kansas State's secondary. This has the potential to be explosive, either way. The last time Wilson faced a Big 12 secondary, he threw for 510 yards. Granted, Kansas State's defense is a lot better than Texas A&M's, especially at defending the pass. It also possesses the Big 12's interception leader, Nigel Malone, with seven. Linebacker Arthur Brown is fast enough to drop into coverage and be effective. This one is a must watch and, combined with Klein's production, will decide the game.
WHY TO WATCH: Let me count the ways. Two top 10 teams, and arguably the second or third-best matchup of all the bowl games. It's the only matchup between the Big 12 and the SEC. It's two very different styles. How many more reasons do you need? This will be a fun one. Kansas State is a touchdown underdog, but the Wildcats were already an underdog in eight games this season. Of those eight games, it won six and finished 10-2. This is nothing new for Kansas State.
PREDICTION: Kansas State 34, Arkansas 31. I'll take the upset in this one. I've had a bead on the Wildcats all season, and I think Kansas State gets enough stops and the grinding running game frustrates an Arkansas defense that isn't strong enough to stop it. Since picking the Wildcats to lose by 14 to Baylor all the way back on Oct. 1, I've picked every Kansas State game correctly, including correctly picking them to win as an underdog four times. Let's make it five. College football's other Honey Badger at LSU gave Arkansas fits. Tonight will make it two.
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.
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. (FOX)
Kansas State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State does it ugly. All the time, every time. But it does it. The Cats are college football's biggest overachievers, and they do it on the back of Collin Klein, who has dragged defenders on his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame for 1,099 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. By the way, he's the quarterback. Never mind his wonky delivery. He's gotten better and more accurate as the season has gone on, and somehow has stayed healthy. He just might be the toughest player in college football, and if you're watching K-State's offense, he's probably the guy with the ball in his hand.
Bill Snyder deserves the national coach of the year nod, and the Wildcats have had a defensive renaissance under coordinator Chris Cosh in 2011. This is the same team that gave up more than 3,000 rushing yards last year. Well, sort of. It's not quite the same team. Linebacker Arthur Brown doesn't miss very many tackles and he's one of the Big 12's speediest linebackers. Cornerback Nigel Malone picked off seven passes this year for an All-Big 12-caliber season.
Arkansas take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Before the season, it looked as if coach Bobby Petrino was equipped with his best, most complete team since his arrival in Fayetteville. The defense was easily the best he had, and while quarterback Ryan Mallett was gone, Tyler Wilson appeared to be just as talented and with the wealth at wide receiver, it didn’t look like the Razorbacks would miss a beat in the passing game. Not to mention, Arkansas had one of the SEC’s best in running back Knile Davis.
But days before the season began; the Hogs were dealt a crushing blow when Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury. With Davis sidelined, the Arkansas offense became more one-dimensional as it searched for a consistent running back. Injuries then took hold of the defense and the Hogs found themselves outmanned in a huge game with Alabama, losing 38-14. The Razorbacks then struggled to get going in the first half of games after that. The slow starts nearly cost them at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but things changed during their homecoming game with South Carolina.
The Hogs jumped out quickly against the Gamecocks and never looked back. Starting with that 44-28 win, the Razorbacks won their first three games in November by a combined 137-52. Arkansas had an opportunity to shake up the BCS and sneak into the national championship, but fell 41-17 to No. 1 LSU in its season finale. Still, Arkansas had another fine year under Petrino, getting to 10 wins and finishing first in the SEC in total offense (445.8 yards per game).
That's the understatement of all understatements when you give up 628 yards of total offense and are whistled for 14 penalties for 112 yards.
But there's also something to be said for a team that can win against anybody, let alone a nationally ranked team, when you're shredded like that on defense and are penalized for that many yards.
Bobby Petrino's fourth Arkansas team might have its share of warts, but it's also a team that knows the meaning of fighting for 60 minutes.
The Hogs were physically whipped in the first half Saturday and trailed 35-17 at the half, but showed unbelievable grit in the second half in coming from behind and winning a wild 42-38 affair over Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic.
Some of the numbers from this game were mind numbing.
Not only did the Hogs give up 628 total yards, but they allowed 381 rushing yards.
But in the second half, Arkansas' defense showed its pride by holding the Aggies to a single field goal.
And Arkansas junior quarterback Tyler Wilson showed off his red-hot right arm with a school-record 510 passing yards. His 481 yards of total offense was also a school record.
Senior receiver Jarius Wright set a school record with 281 receiving yards. The old record was 204 yards, and Wright passed that mark by halftime. He also tied the school record with 13 catches.
It was one of those games that was a lot of fun to watch. That is, unless you happened to be on either one of the defensive staffs.
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