Here we are. When the Arkansas Razorbacks step on the field in Memphis to play the Kansas State Wildcats in the Liberty Bowl, it will mark the final game of the season for an SEC team before Alabama plays Clemson in the national championship game. For all intents and purposes, this marks the end of the SEC football season.
In some ways, it's probably fitting that Arkansas is the last team except for Alabama to play football in the SEC this year. The Razorbacks' season was one of the more intriguing in the conference. Almost everyone wrote Arkansas off after its loss to Toledo, but the Razorbacks ended up having a pretty good year. Were it not for the Hogs beating Ole Miss, Alabama would not have gone to the SEC Championship Game, much less appeared in the college football playoff. Arkansas' defeat of LSU nearly helped drive Les Miles out of Baton Rouge in one of the more bizarre offseason sagas this year. And the Razorbacks played a total of six overtime periods between three games that went beyond regulation.
After being considered an afterthought following the second game of the year, Arkansas provided entertainment and headlines for the next three months. They weren't the best in the SEC this year, they weren't the worst and they might not have even been the most interesting. But the season would have been a lot more boring without them, and it should be fun to watch them play one last time before winter's college football-less embrace becomes permanent.
1Personality Conflict. Narratives can be overdone in college football (as in all sports), but it would be hard to find two coaches more different temperamentally than Bill Snyder and Bret Bielema. Snyder is seen as an old-school statesman, so polite that he has written letters to Kansas State students apologizing when he his team didn't play well. There are many words that have been used to describe Bret Bielema, but polite is not one of them. He's blunt and brash. What makes it even more interesting is that Bielema worked for Snyder at Kansas State for two years. There's nothing wrong with either man's style, at least not in my book, and it probably won't make a great deal of difference in the outcome of the game. But it's a fascinating contrast.
Scott Sewell -- USA Today Sports
2Limping In. There was a very real chance this season that Kansas State wasn't going to make a bowl game. The Wildcats won their first three games and then dropped six straight, including games against essentially every quality team in the Big 12 and Texas. The letter Snyder wrote followed a 55-0 demolition at home against Oklahoma. Kansas State didn't beat an FBS team with a winning record between Sept. 19 and Dec. 5 -- the dates of their only two wins against FBS bowl-eligible teams period. (The latter, against West Virginia, was a one-point victory.) Arkansas' resume has its own less-than-stellar moments -- hello, Toledo loss -- but also wins against Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU. If you're judging teams purely by what they accomplished in the regular season, give the edge to Arkansas.
3Defensive Struggles. This game might not be a point-a-minute contest, but it's probably not going to turn into a slugfest, either. Both Arkansas and Kansas State have struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The Hogs rank 71st in defensive S&P+, and the Wildcats are a few places behind that, checking in at No. 75. Arkansas has had some successful games -- limiting Tennessee to 20 points, for example -- but has also struggled at times, like when it gave up 50 points to Mississippi State. Texas-San Antonio, Texas and West Virginia are the only FBS teams that failed to score at least 30 against Kansas State this year.
4Running Away With It? There is a clear-cut advantage when it comes to offense, though. The Hogs rank second in the country in offensive S&P+, checking in at 10th in rushing offense and (behind the arm of Brandon Allen) first in passing offense. Look back at Kansas State's defensive rankings -- 86th against the run and 73rd against the pass -- and you start to see where this might be a concern for the Wildcats. Meanwhile, Kansas State's offense isn't much better than its defense. In fact, in terms of rankings, there is no difference; the Wildcats come in at No. 75 in S&P+. But their running game is above average, while the passing game is abysmal. The same can be said for Arkansas' defense. It's strength against strength or weakness against weakness, however you want to look at it, which means the Wildcats might not be able to find as many opportunities on offense as the Razorbacks do.
5Who's Starting? Of course, it's hard to know too much about the Kansas State offense when the starting quarterback hasn't been publicly revealed. And won't be until kickoff:
When asked about the topic Friday, Snyder told reporters he would inform the media of his decision Saturday after the game concludes.
At which point he will presumably not be asked the question. It could be gamesmanship, it could be Snyder hiding some new wrinkles from the Razorbacks, or it could be some sort of motivational tactic. (It could also be confusion, though there are indications Snyder knows who it's going to be.) In either case, Kansas State will be going with a quarterback that completed less than 50 percent of his passes this year.
THREE TO WATCH
Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas: If you haven't had a chance yet to catch Allen's late-season resurgence at quarterback, this is your last shot. The senior finally appeared to put it all together in the last month or so of his final year. Against Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri, Allen was 83-of-121 passing for 1,091 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. That's good for a passing efficiency rating of 179.21. Allen threw a combined 13 touchdowns against the two Mississippi teams, and held his own against Dak Prescott in the quarterbacking battle of the season, at least in the SEC.
Crystal LoGiudice -- USA Today Sports
Travis Britz and Jordan Willis, DL, Kansas State: These two linemen are easily the most disruptive players on the Wildcats defense. They've combined for 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss, even if the sacks have tended to come in clumps. (Britz had all of his at UTSA and against Baylor and West Virginia, while Willis got his against Louisiana Tech and Iowa State and at Kansas.) When Allen drops back, Britz and Willis are the two men most likely to be trying to catch him.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: For all of Allen's November heroics under center, the power running game is always going to be a hallmark of any Bielema team. And Alex Collins is the workhorse for that attack. Only three teams held him under 100 yards rushing this year: Toledo(!), Alabama and Mississippi State, which also happen to be three of the five teams that beat the Hogs this year. On the season, Collins has 1,392 yards and 17 touchdowns on 248 carries; the 5.6 yard-per-carry average is just 0.1 yards behind a certain Heisman Trophy winner in Tuscaloosa. And this is probably also you're last chance to watch Collins, who will probably only stay out of the NFL Draft if there's a crowd at the running back position, and might go even then.
With the obligatory caution that it's almost impossible to predict what will happen in a bowl game, it's hard to see Kansas State hanging around for too long in this one unless there's a huge motivational gap between the teams. If there's a coach in the world who can probably pull that off, it's Snyder, who's been around long enough to know basically every trick there is. But Bielema can get his players ready for a game, too, and the regular season suggests that Arkansas is just better than the Wildcats. It might be close for a while, but Allen and Collins should have an easy enough time dismantling the Kansas State defense. Arkansas 48, Kansas State 23