Kansas Vs. Arkansas: Predictions, Odds, Picks For Liberty Bowl (12/28/22)

After a hot 5-0 start that won the hearts of the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks fell into a tailspin, winning just one of their last 7 games to barely scrape into bowl eligibility. The Arkansas Razorbacks weren’t quite as streaky, but they did finish 6-6 as well, after securing a .500 record with a win over a ranked Ole Miss team. For Kansas, this season already marks a huge step up from recent years, for Arkansas it’s something of a regression; but both teams will want to end on a high note, and go into the offseason with a win. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for Wednesday’s Liberty Bowl matchup.

Kansas Vs. Arkansas Odds

While this is a bit of a tough one to call due to all of the opt-outs, Vegas has Arkansas installed as -3 favorites. Meanwhile, the points total is set at an excitingly high number of 69.

Kansas Vs. Arkansas Prediction & Pick

Other than a pretty decisive whipping of a solid, ranked Oklahoma State team, Kansas has absolutely nothing to show from the second half of their season; the other 5 contests were losses by a margin of 10 points or more. Of course, it didn’t help that QB Jalon Daniels was down and out for much of that stretch, but he was on the field for the consecutive drubbings to end the season, at the hands of Texas and Kansas State. Beyond Daniels being back, the good news for the Jayhawks- other than the good news of being in a bowl at all, after being expected to be perhaps the worst team in Power 5- is that they should be at a decent advantage when it comes to what has become an all-important metric these days; the opt-out battle.

Arkansas, of course, will not be so lucky, as they’ll be missing three key members of their defense; most notably starting linebacker Drew Sanders, along with his position-mate Bumper Pool who are going to be opting out, and safety Myles Slusher who plans to transfer. The offense will also be without receptions leader Jadon Haselwood, as he is opting out of this game as well. This could be a serious issue for the Razorbacks, who were certainly already an offense-first team all year; they can’t really afford to be losing the literal centerpieces of the defense if they want to be competitive in this one. Still, they’ve been one of the best offenses in the country, and should be able to fill the void left by Haselwood relatively well; this team has scored on some pretty good defenses, and I look forward to seeing what they can do against Kansas.

The spread is a really good one by Vegas, as I’m having to do a lot of thinking for my projection. The opt-outs and a few specific matchups make me wonder if the Jayhawks have a little early-season magic left in them, but their form over half of a season now is too concerning to ignore; I’m taking Arkansas in this one. The over is a much easier call for me; the Razorbacks’ already-thin defense loses some big names, Daniels will be fully healthy, and Kansas loses essentially nobody on offense to transfers or opt outs.

Key Matchups

Arkansas Air Attack vs. Kansas Pass Defense

Arkansas has been propped up this season by an efficient passing attack, led in large part by QB K.J. Jefferson, who PFF sees as a top-20 QB this season amongst qualified passers. The redshirt junior signal-caller missed a bit of time this season, but was active for the end of the regular season and should be good to go against Kansas. The offensive line has also been outstanding, the 11th-best pass blocking line in the country, a consistent group anchored by the very solid guard duo of Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer, a unit that truthfully doesn’t have any major holes. If there’s a weakness to this overall passing offense, it’s the receiving group, who PFF sees as being just inside the top 90 in the country, and loses a major contributor in Haselwood. Matt Landers will have to shoulder the load as a true #1, and someone like Trey Knox and Ketron Jackson Jr. will have to step into a larger role to compliment him.

Fortunately for the Razorbacks lackluster receiving corps, they’re going up against one of the grossest secondaries in Power-5; PFF sees Kansas as the #94 coverage group in the country. Safety O.J. Burroughs has been a definitive leader, while the corner duo of Craig Young and Jacobee Bryant have been just about playable, but that’s the most you can say of any of the DBs on this team; everyone else has been little other than an unmitigated disaster. At #76 in the country, the pass rush has been a bit better, but definitely not up to the level of Arkansas’s fairly special offensive line. Edge rusher Lonnie Phelps has been awesome, and could singlehandedly make some trouble for the Arkansas tackles, he has a win rate of just under 20%, a team-best 7 sacks, and an excellent PFF pass rush score of 87. Caleb Simpson and D.J. Withers have been the most consistent contributors on the interior line, but they’ve been nothing to write home about. Phelps is going to have to have a career day to slow down the Arkansas air offense, and give his team a chance to stay in the game; he’ll hope for a bit more support than he’s gotten thus far.

Kansas Ground Game vs. Arkansas Run Defense

Kansas’s offensive identity has been pretty definitively tied to the run game this season. While PFF doesn’t love them from an efficiency standpoint, the basic stats speak for themselves; 194.7 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game, and a very strong 5.7 yards per carry. How you can do this with mediocre run blocking and rushing, I’m not sure, but you’ve got to tip your hat to Lance Leipold and his staff. Lead back Devin Neal also deserves a bunch of credit; averaging 6.2 yards per carry, he’s cracked the thousand-yard rushing plateau this season, and scored 10 total scrimmage touchdowns. He’s been pretty soundly the focal point, as the team’s second-leader rusher is actually Daniels, who is of course a QB and also has missed time. Speaking of Daniels, it’ll be key to have him back in the fold, as he can contribute with his legs as well as adding some danger to the passing attack and potentially open up some rushing lanes.

They’ll be going up against an interesting Arkansas team, who were the 42nd-best run defense in PFF’s ranks, as they’ve held opponents below 5 yards per carry, despite playing a top-20 toughest schedule in the country. However, they did it while being outside the top-100 in terms of tackling, a true rarity in the run game, this points to excellent scheming by defensive coordinator Barry Odom. Unfortunately for the Hogs, Pool has been their best run-stopper, Slusher has been their second, and Sanders has been a key contributor too. Eyes will be on Chris Paul Jr. as he steps into the top linebacker role, and will attempt to play a key role in slowing down the prolific Kansas run game. The most important existing starters will probably be edge rusher Jordan Domineck, and lineman Cameron Ball. It’s going to be an uphill battle without the team’s top run-stoppers, but the scheme is solid and there’s a lot of solid experience still on the field.

From starting my own blog in Middle School, to working on a friend’s in college, and finally joining the Lineups team this year, I’ve been writing about sports for over a decade and betting on them as long as I’ve been legally able. I graduated from the University of Michigan last year, where I took sports journalism classes alongside my business major. Having played and watched sports for almost my whole life, I aim to provide insight and entertainment, as well as profitable picks, in my writing about professional and collegiate leagues.

Hot College Football Stories