The last time Kansas played in a bowl game was December 31, 2008, when the Jayhawks took on Minnesota at the Insight Bowl, a game they easily won 42-21. At the time, no one envisioned it would be their last postseason appearance for well over a decade, and until this past fall, few if any really believed that drought would end this year.
However, as we all know, Lance Leipold got the team rolling in his second year as head coach, and notched a bowl-clinching 6th win on November 5th, beating Oklahoma State. While they haven’t won again since, we can now confirm that your Kansas Jayhawks are taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Liberty Bowl. This has yet to be formally announced, but multiple news sources have published that this will be the matchup. (editor’s note: this has now been made official by the Liberty Bowl’s social media pages)
The Liberty Bowl takes place in Memphis, not a terrible drive for those in the Lawrence/KC area, and will be played December 28 at 4:30pm. This is a Wednesday, so for those planning to watch at home, make note that you may have to leave work a bit early to catch it all. For those planning to attend, you’ll probably need a couple of days off.
Rock Chalk Talk will have a full preview and breakdown of this year’s Arrkansas team as the day of the game draws closer, but we’ll hit some highlights here to give a general idea of what Kansas is up against. As always, remember that some players, mostly those who hope to be drafted next spring, are likely to sit out the bowl game, which can obviously change the complexion of the matchup. As of now, there are no reports of Jayhawks planning to sit this one out, but you never know.
Arkansas finished 6-6 this year, and they also bear the unfortunate distinction of being the reason Missouri ended up bowl eligible, as Mizzou took down the Razorback 29-27 in the final game of the season to squeak into a bowl. There were reports circulating this week, naturally refuted by Missouri itself, that Mizzou refused any matchup with Kansas for their bowl game. My guess is that they knew their turnout would be dwarfed by KU’s, and with a few of their players sitting out to prepare for the draft, they didn’t want to risk the humiliation of a poor fan showing combined with a loss to a rival in some degree of national spotlight.
But this is supposed to be an Arkansas preview, so enough about Missouri. Arkansas actually found themselves ranked as high as 10th nationally this year after a strong start, beating Cincinnati in week one, and following it up with a win over what turned out to be a pretty solid South Carolina team. But after a 3-0 start following a win over FCS’ Missouri State, things unraveled quickly in head coach Sam Pittman’s third year. Hopes were high for Arkansas after they went 9-4 last year, but the Razorbacks lost three straight after their strong start, dropping games to Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. They rebounded by dismantling BYU and Auburn, but then suffered an embarrassing to loss to Auburn’s new coach as they fell 21-19 at home to Liberty. They would beat Ole Miss while losing to LSU and the aforementioned Missouri team, resulting in a season that didn’t unfold nearly the way their preseason expectations indicated it would.
Arkansas is a run-first team that kept it on the ground for a whopping 63% of their plays, a very big number for a modern offense, but had mixed results, averaging 4.85 yards/carry. When QB KJ Jefferson did drop back to pass, he actually did it very well, throwing for 22 TDs and just four picks, averaging 8.7 yards/attempt and notching a passer rating over 165. Jefferson is also a serious threat running the ball, as Arkansas’ 2nd leading rusher, with 510 yards for the year.
If both teams are able to play all their top players, expect KU to be an underdog by a touchdown, if not more. Despite the 6-6 record, Arkansas finished 29th nationally in sp+ this year, boasting the 23rd ranked offense and 64th ranked defense. The good news hiding in this is that Arkansas was nothing special defensively this year, and when Kansas won games, they were frequently shootouts where the offense would hang just enough points on the board to come out on top. Their ugly performances almost always came against a team with a sturdy defense and a high scoring offense. Arkansas has the offense this year, but their defense may struggle with what, given about a full month to get healthy, should be a KU offense ready to fire on all cylinders on 12/28.
Again, there will be a more in-depth preview to come as the game draws closer, but that’s a quick scout on KU’s opponent as they head to their first bowl game appearance in 14 years. Rejoice, Jayhawk faithful, the football team is bowling once again!