For the first time in 14 years, the Kansas Jayhawks will play in a bowl game as they will square off with the Arkansas Razorbacks in this evening's Liberty Bowl. We’ll preview the second of four bowl games being played today, along with a breakdown of my best bet.
Arkansas came into this season with high expectations as they returned a solid quarterback in KJ Jefferson and what was supposed to be one of the better defenses in the SEC. A mix of injuries and poor play, in general, led the Razorbacks to fail to meet those expectations and finish the regular season with a 6-6 record.
Not only did the season end with them losing four of their last five games, but after the regular season ended, a mix of transfer portal and NFL draft departures have led to the Razorbacks being shorthanded today, especially on the defensive end of the ball. Arkansas will be without four defensive starters today, including first-team All-SEC linebacker Drew Sanders.
The defense finished the season ranked 82nd in the country in points allowed per game, so losing all those starters and their defensive coordinator to the coaching carousel is not what Razorback fans want to see. Especially since their opponent today, the Kansas Jayhawks, averaged 32.2 points per game and will have a healthy starting quarterback in Jalon Daniels.
Daniels missed some time due to injury, but he made this offense incredibly explosive when he could play. The Jayhawks averaged 5.3 yards per rush and 8.6 yards per pass, ranking in the top ten in those categories. Even with missed time, Daniels managed to rush for six touchdowns and throw for 13, so the Jayhawks can attack the defense whichever way they choose.
Aside from the injuries at quarterback, the defense is what turned a 5-0 start into a 6-6 finish. The Jayhawks allowed an average of 474.5 yards per game and 6.1 yards per play as they struggled to stop opponents on the ground and through the air.
Kansas can be found as +2.5 point underdogs, and they’ll be my play for this one. Between the time off between the regular season and now, Jalon Daniels should be close to his early season form and health; along with that, the Jayhawks have all the motivation in this one since it has been so long since they were even bowl-eligible.
Offensively the Jayhawks were 38th in the country in run play percentage, and between Daniels and runningback Devin Neal, the Jayhawks should be able to take advantage of the Razorbacks' defense that allowed an average of 191.1 rushing yards a game. Arkansas ranked 109th in that defensive category before losing two starting linebackers and two starting defensive linemen.
The Jayhawks may struggle on defense, but this will not be the same Arkansas offense that averaged 441.2 yards per game. The Razorbacks will be without their starting center, tight-end, and two wide receivers, one of them is Jadon Haselwood, who led the team with 59 receptions.
If the Jayhawks can produce consistently on offense, they can keep this game close and even come out on top.
Kansas Jayhawks (+2.5)