The Kansas Jayhawks see a bright future thanks to coach Lance Leipold’s quick turnaround.
The Arkansas Razorbacks?
That proud Southeastern Conference program goes into the Liberty Bowl on Wednesday hoping quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders can provide enough offense to make up for a roster thinned by opt-outs and transfer portal departures.
“It’s out of our hands so we just want to be able to control what we can control and do the best we can,” Jefferson said.
A winning season is on the line for both Kansas and Arkansas, who are 6-6, in the first meeting between these neighbors since 1906.
This game means a lot to the Jayhawks after going 2-10 last season and finishing last in the Big 12. This is the Jayhawks’ first bowl since 2008 and second all-time at the Liberty Bowl, sponsored by AutoZone.
“Now the fun starts,” Kansas linebacker Rich Miller said. “This is what we’ve worked for all season, and now it’s time to pay off.”
Expect lots of scoring. Kansas ranks fifth nationally, averaging 7.01 yards per play. That’s on target to set a program record, topping the 6.4 yards averaged per play for the 1950 season. The Jayhawks rank 27th nationally scoring with an average of 34.2 points per game, and Arkansas puts up 30.7 points a game.
The Jayhawks also have dual-threat quarterback Jalon Daniels back after missing four games. He threw for 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions this season and is a dual threat — second on the Jayhawks with 404 yards and six TDs rushing.
Jefferson, who missed two games himself, joined Georgia’s Stetson Bennett as the SEC’s only quarterbacks to throw for at least 20 TDs and run for seven more. Jefferson threw for 2,361 yards and 22 TDs with only four interceptions.
Devin Neal averages 6.2 yards per carry for Kansas and gained 1,061 yards this season. Neal had his best game against then-No. 18 Oklahoma State, when he ran for 224 yards and had 110 yards more receiving in the win. Later, he became the first Power Five running back to follow that up with at least 190 yards against Texas Tech.
Arkansas counters with Sanders, who ranked second in the SEC with 1,426 yards rushing and an average of 118.8 yards per game. He led the SEC with 1,687 all-purpose yards as a receiving threat as well.
Arkansas leads the SEC and is tied for fifth nationally with 39 sacks, one off the school record of 40 set in 1998. Yet the Razorbacks will be without their All-American linebacker Drew Sanders, who had a team-high 9 1/2 sacks.
Sanders is just one of the Razorbacks who chose to prepare for the NFL draft rather than play in the bowl. Center Ricky Stromberg, wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and linebacker Bumper Pool, who recently had hip surgery, also are focused on the NFL.
Kansas gave up only nine sacks with the same five linemen starting every game, which ranks seventh in the country.
LONG TIME COMING
This is Kansas’ 13th bowl and first since 2008, when the Jayhawks beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. This also is their first bowl against an SEC team since a 10-0 loss to Mississippi State in the 1981 Hall of Fame Bowl. The Jayhawks first played in the Liberty Bowl in 1973, a loss to North Carolina State.
Arkansas is heading to its second straight bowl and 44th all-time. The Razorbacks, who come in having lost three of their last four, beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl to open this calendar year.
Extreme cold has led to lots of burst water pipes in Memphis, prompting bowl officials to go on social media Monday night to make it clear the game will go on as scheduled. By kickoff, temperatures are expected to be in the 50s.
The Liberty Bowl will start at 4:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Dec. 28. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.