Kansas State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl: 5 Players You Need to Know
Friday's Cotton Bowl offers us one of the best matchups of this year's bowl slate, pitting a pair of 10-2 teams in Arkansas and Kansas State that have legitimate cases for being in BCS bowls.
The contest will serve as a barometer that allows fans to see how top teams from arguably the top two conferences in college football stack up to each other.
The Wildcats' remarkable season under the legendary Bill Snyder would not have been possible if not for consistently high-level contributions from several players. Here are five KSU players you should be familiar with as you look forward to this BCS title game appetizer, live from Jerryworld.
No. 1: Quarterback Collin Klein
The 6-foot-5, 226-pound junior from Loveland, Colo., has been the Wildcats' brightest star this season. Unquestionably one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, Klein rushed for 1,099 yards and 26 touchdowns in addition to passing for 1,745 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to earning First Team All-Big 12 and Honorable Mention All-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors.
With one more rushing touchdown, Klein would tie Ricky Williams for the most rushing touchdowns (27) in a single season in Big 12 history. He would also tie the national record for rushing touchdowns in a single season, a mark currently held by Navy's Ricky Dobbs.
KSU's 10-2 season would surely not have been possible without the do-it-all performance from its versatile signal-caller.
No. 2: Defensive Back Nigel Malone
Limiting the Arkansas passing attack will be up to K-State's star cornerback and Jim Thorpe award semifinalist for the nation's top defensive back.
The 5-foot-10 junior from Manteca, Calif., was also named Second Team Walter Camp All-American and First Team All-Big 12 as he notched seven interceptions, tied for third most nationally.
Malone will likely be tasked with covering premier receiver Jarius Wright when the Wildcats face the Razorbacks in Dallas. Wright has logged over 1,000 yards and reached the end zone 11 times this year, and Malone's success (or lack thereof) in making him a non-factor could go a long way in determining the ultimate outcome of the 76th Cotton Bowl.
No. 3: Linebacker Arthur Brown
Bednarik Award semifinalist honors for the best defensive player in the nation, the team lead in tackles, Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and First Team All-Big 12 honors highlight junior linebacker and team captain Arthur Brown's impressive accomplishments as a Wildcat.
The middle linebacker heads a talented corps that notched 17.5 tackles for loss and fielded the nation's 26th best rush defense.
Arkansas isn't a threatening rushing team but boasts the 15th best pass offense in the FBS, and Tyler Wilson will go to the air early and often against the 96th ranked Kansas State pass defense.
The Wildcat linebackers will need to help pressure Wilson while also playing solid coverage to attempt to slow down the vaunted Razorback air attack.
No. 4: Receiver Chris Harper
Harper is KSU's leading receiver with 39 receptions for 536 yards and five touchdowns. He leads a receiving corps that includes many contributors; 15 Wildcats have caught at least one pass this season.
Success in the pass game will be key for Kansas State against Arkansas; the Razorbacks will try to limit Klein and Hubert's ability to run and force the Wildcats to go to the air, an area they haven't exactly mastered this season (KSU ranks 109th nationally in pass yards).
A big game from Harper and Co. will be important to put K-State in good position to win the Cotton Bowl.
No. 5: Right Tackle Clyde Aufner
Aufner is a dominating force on an o-line that paved the way for the 29th overall rush offense this year. The massive senior is the anchor of the Wildcat offensive line and has started every game this season en route to earning First Team All-Big 12 and Honorable Mention Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year accolades.
Developing the run game will be pivotal for the Wildcats if they are to beat Arkansas, and it all starts with their star, 6-foot-6, 301-pound lineman.