2015 AutoZone Liberty Bowl

The Wildcats squeaked by to qualify for this year's Liberty Bowl. Photo Courtesy: AutoZone Liberty Bowl
The Wildcats squeaked by to qualify for this year’s Liberty Bowl.
Photo Courtesy: AutoZone Liberty Bowl Facebook Page

 

By Jeff Cantrell

Game Info
Kansas State Wildcats vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Saturday – January 2 – 2:20 pm CT
TV: ESPN
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, Tennessee

Records Before the Game
Kansas State Wildcats (6-6, 3-6 Big 12)
Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5, 5-3 SEC)

How did Kansas State get here?
Kansas State started off the year with two dominating wins against overmatched opponents, South Dakota and UTSA in which the Wildcats outscored by a combined total of 64-3. In their final non-conference game, Kansas State faced off against Louisiana State and in a hard fought game that went back and forth through regulation but the Wildcats finally won it, 39-33 in triple overtime. Then the Wildcats hit a brick wall, suffering six straight losses to start conference play. It started with a close 36-34 loss to Oklahoma State. The slump hit its lowest point when the Sooners crushed the Wildcats in a 55-0 shutout, and culminated in a 59-44 loss to Texas Tech. At 3-6, Kansas State was on the outside looking in at the bowl picture, but with the worst of the conference schedule behind them, Coach Bill Snyder’s team rallied and pulled out a tough fought 38-35 win against Iowa State, to end the losing streak. In the next game, the Wildcats dominated hapless, in state rival, Kansas in a 45-14 drubbing. At 5-6, the Wildcats could have still been bowl eligible by virtue of their high academic performance and the lack of bowl eligible teams. However, Kansas State wouldn’t need it as they squeaked past West Virginia, 24-23, in their home finale to wrap up the year at 6-6.

How did Arkansas get here?
Arkansas got the season started on the right foot with a strong performance in their 48-13 win over UTEP. Then things took a bad turn as the Razorbacks fell in close losses in the next three contests, which included a 35-24 loss to Texas Tech. Arkansas finally got things righted against Tennessee as they knocked off their conference foe, 24-20, but a week later Alabama dealt the Razorbacks yet another defeat.   The next week Arkansas gave up a late lead against Auburn but finally found a way to pull out a win, 54-46 in 4 overtimes. The Razorbacks followed this up by demolished UT Martin in a 63-28 trouncing the following week. Then Arkansas pulled off the miraculous by knocking off Ole Miss 53-52 in overtime on the road and repeating the feat against LSU a week later as they downed the Tigers 31-14. A wild game against Mississippi State, the next week, saw Arkansas rally from a ten point halftime deficit only to give up an 11 point lead in the 4th quarter and fall to the Bulldogs, 51-50. In the season finale, the Razorbacks knocked off Missouri, 28-3, to end the season at 7-5.

The Match Up
Arkansas comes into the game ranked 6th in strength of schedule, is 1-1 against teams in the top 10 and 3-2 against teams in the top 30. Kansas State on the other hand holds a SOS of 33, is 0-3 against teams in the top 10 and 1-4 against teams in the top 30. Digging deeper into the statistics for both teams, it starts to look even bleaker for Kansas State. Arkansas ranks 38th in rushing, 33rd in passing and has a total offensive ranking of 31. Defensively, the Razorbacks are 16th in run defense, 120th in passing yards allowed and rank 67th in total defense. The poor pass rating would normally hint at an exploitable weakness, however, Kansas State ranks 74th in rushing, 108th in passing with an overall offensive rating of 108. On Defense it doesn’t get any better for the Wildcats as they rank 52nd in rushing defense, 119th in passing yards allowed and 100th in total defense. So the statistics favor Arkansas, who should be able to move the ball through the air against the Wildcats and since the Razorbacks have shown the ability to stop the run, it will force Kansas State to throw the football to stay in the game, which is something that they’ve not shown the ability to do consistently this season.

Kansas State will be led in this game by their QB Joe Hubener who has thrown for 1,837 yards, but only has a 47.8% completion percentage and has thrown only 9 TDs while throwing 9 INTs. Hubener does run the ball a lot and is second on the team in rushing yards with 613, and leads the team with 13 TDs. The Wildcats leading RB is Charles Jones, who has carried for 656 yards on the year and 5 TDs. WR Deante Burton is Kansas State’s top receiver with 477 yards on 34 receptions and 4 TDs.

Arkansas has QB Brandon Allen, who boasts a 65.1% Completion rating and has thrown for 3,125 yards and 29 TDs with only 9 INTs. RB Alex Collins leads the team in rushing yards with 1,392, and has 17 TDs on the season. The Razorbacks top WR is Drew Morgan who has compiled 751 yards on 55 receptions while amassing 10 TDs.

The evidence points to Arkansas winning in this one. Arkansas wins because they’re statistically better than Kansas on both sides of the ball, and barring a bevy of Razorback mistakes or a herculean effort by Kansas State, the Wildcats lose big in this game.

Prediction: Arkansas 34 – Kansas State 21