Cotton Bowl Preview: It’s Raining ‘Cats and Hogs

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, December 30th, 2011


How can one top the showmanship and competitive college football from last year’s LSU 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the historic, 75th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington during the 2012 edition?

And could even the experts have known that LSU would vault to a 13-0 overall mark and No. 1 ranking nationally this season prior to the Allstate BCS championship on Jan. 10 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans?

There is a similar scenario in the 76th annual Classic on Friday, Jan. 6, when the nation’s No. 6 team, 10-2 Arkansas, meets the No. 8 squad, 10-2 Kansas State, in Arlington.

Both these teams easily could have been in the national championship game, but they bring the highest-rated competition to the 2012 AT&T Cotton Bowl since the Top 10 matchup between Notre Dame and Texas A&M in the 1994 Classic in Dallas.

They definitely have a hard act to follow with the Tigers and Aggies, but both the Razorbacks and Wildcats were mere tipped passes or minor miscues from being 12-0 overall and winning their Southeastern and Big 12 Conference crowns, respectively, in 2011.

Almost amazingly, K-State brings a 3-1 series edge into the melee, but the teams have not played since a 28-7 victory by the Hawgs over the ‘Cats at Little Rock, Ark., in 1967. That was 12 composite head coaches ago for both these programs as College Football Hall of Fame mentor Frank Broyles was in his 11th season at UA and coach Vince Gibson was in his first season with KSU.

And yet another Classic first is the return of 2011 Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year Bill Snyder of K-State after coaching entries in the 1997 AT&T Cotton Bowl (19-15 loss to Brigham Young) and the 2001 Classic (35-21 win over Tennessee). Snyder is the first CB veteran to have 17 successful seasons (1989-2005), retire for three years, and then lead the school to a third decade appearance under his new tenure since 2009 as an ageless wonder (72) in the collegiate ranks.

UA head coach Bobby Petrino, also makes the Classic annals as the 89th different head coach from 46 different schools over 76 years to guide his squad to the Classic. Petrino’s 74-25-0 head coaching record in eight years at Louisville and Arkansas (since 2008) virtually is unsurpassed in the FBS ranks since 2004. A win over the Wildcats gives Petrino a .750 career victory percentage in the coaching ranks.

And expect much more scoring than the mere 35 points when the teams last played in ’67. The fast Cowboys Stadium playing turf gives rise to plenty of points on the high school, pro and college scenes as the stadium is used for over 50 grid games annually and is the venue for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, UIL state championships (all divisions in 2011), Lone Star Conference College Showdown, Kirk Herbstreit High School Classic, and the 2012 Alabama-Michigan opening weekend dustup.

Arkansas makes its 12th AT&T Cotton Bowl appearance since a 0-0 tie on the frozen Dallas tundra (major ice storm) in 1947. Kansas State is in its third trek to Arlington or Dallas since 1997.

The Razorbacks, averaging 308 passing yards each contest for 13th place nationally and 37.4 points per outing for 14th position among 120 NCAA FBS schools. UA adds 138 rushing yards to being the grand total offense average to a whopping 445.

The Wildcats, one of the better defensive teams in the Big 12 and a 17-13 winner at Texas with just 121 yards of total offense, rush for 194 yards per game (28th nationally) and score at a 33.1 clip (30th nationally). If these teams just live up to their averages, 70-75 composite points may not be out of the question on January 6.

Arkansas has the added incentive of making up for a 38-7 shellacking by Big 12 opponent Missouri in the 2008 Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium (the next-to-last AT&T Cotton Bowl at that site). Interim head coach Reggie Herring tried to piece together a coaching staff that afternoon, and, ironically, Petrino faces a somewhat similar dilemma in 2012. Three of his 2011 assistant coaches have taken head coaching posts and will be not participate in Arlington.

Those leadership losses should be offset by the pinpoint passing of UA quarterback Tyler Wilson (257-of-407 for 3,422 yards, 63.1 percent completion rate, 22 TD tosses, still a junior), running of Dennis Johnson (101 carries for 637 yards, three TDs) and ace receiving of Jarius Wright (63 catches for 1,029 yards, 16.3 yards per reception, and 11 TDs). LB Jerry Franklin is a big-play producer with 93 total stops, two fumble recoveries with 94 yards in runbacks and 10 tackles for losses.

The Wildcats counter with All-Big 12 quarterback and do-it-all Collin Klein (145-of-251 passing for 1,745 yards, 12 TDs along with 293 rushes for 1,099 net yards, Big 12-most 26 TD carries, top rushing quarterback in FBS) and diminutive RB John Hubert (5-7, 185 pounds) with 188 carries for 933 yards and three TDs. The chief receiving target is WR Chris Harper with 39 catches for 536 yards, 13.7 average, and five TDs). DB Nigel Moore has seven of K-State’s 18 teams pass interceptions and one of three TDs returned for defensive tallies.
In essence, the AT&T Cotton Bowl shapes up as (pardon the cliché) a game where turnovers, the kicking game and mental/physical toughness will be the determining factors.

“We are just extremely pleased to be going back to the AT&T Cotton Bowl,” Snyder noted recently. “Thi has been a great trip for our players, coaches and fans, and we have been so well represented in each of the three games. I’m very pleased with the way our fans have responded in their support for this bowl and throughout the season.”

Petrino, whose team’s only two losses have been to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama and whose Hawgs finished third in the SEC’s rugged Western Division behind the Tigers and Tide, also was philosophical.

“I’m excited to be coaching in the AT&T Cotton Bowl for the first time,” he explained. “Yes, we’ve had enough of coaches leaving and taking other jobs. I hope we’re done, and we have coaches and players who are disciplined enough to accept their new responsibilities. We can’t wait to play in the bowl game.”

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