December 31, 2006

Capital One Bowl: Arkansas vs. Wisconsin

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Head-to-Head Breakdown

Heisman voters in 2007 will take a good look at Orlando on New Year's Day.

Arkansas' Darren McFadden is sure to lead many lists for next year's Heisman Trophy race after finishing as the runner-up this year.

But Wisconsin redshirt freshman P.J. Hill will be on preseason lists as well, especially if he conquers an SEC defense in a New Year's bowl game.

Only two years removed from high school, the pair combined for 3,091 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2006 - although their paths to stardom started out differently.

McFadden arrived in Fayetteville already a superstar after achieving five-star recruit status out of Little Rock (Ark.) Pulaski Oak Grove.

As a freshman, he was a Freshman All-American with 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

On the other hand, Hill arrived in Madison as a recruiting footnote as a fullback out of Brooklyn, N.Y. As McFadden ran over the SEC, Hill redshirted due to injury.

The running back matchup won't be the only top-notch meeting in the Capital One Bowl, which Wisconsin won last year with a 24-10 victory over Auburn.

The Badgers' All-American left tackle Joe Thomas, projected as one of the top picks in 2007's NFL draft, will handle Arkansas' outstanding defensive end duo of Jamaal Anderson and Antwain Robinson.

Capital One Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin (11-1) vs. No. 12 Arkansas (10-3)
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers
Conference: Big Ten
Record: 11-1, 7-1
Coach: Bret Bielema (11-1, first season)
Passing leader: John Stocco (144 of 234, 1,979 yards, 15 TDs, four INTs)
Rushing leader: P.J. Hill (292 carries, 1,533 yards, 15 TDs)
Receiving leader: Travis Beckum (56 receptions, 821 yards, four TDs)
Defensive leader: Jonathan Casillas (79 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one INT)
No. 12 Arkansas Razorbacks
Conference: SEC
Record: 10-3, 7-1
Coach: Houston Nutt (67-43 in nine seasons at Arkansas)
Passing leader: Casey Dick (56 of 111, 893 yards, nine TDs, five INTs)
Rushing leader: Darren McFadden (265 carries, 1,558 yards, 14 TDs)
Receiving leader: Marcus Monk (49 receptions, 949 yards, 11 TDs)
Defensive leader: Sam Olajubutu (112 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks)
Arkansas running game vs. Wisconsin run defense: Wisconsin's defense is among the best in the nation, allowing only seven rushing touchdowns this year. Arkansas' dual-threat at running back with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones - averaging nearly 200 yards combined per game - has led the nation's No. 4 rushing offense. Badgers senior middle linebacker Mark Zalewski and sophomore outside linebackers Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy combined for more than 21 tackles for a loss and nine sacks.
Edge: Arkansas
Arkansas passing game vs. Wisconsin pass defense: Wisconsin held opponents to a 47.9 completion percentage while intercepting 13 passes. The Badgers' ability to shut down the pass will be magnified by Arkansas' difficulties in finding a consistent passing game. Marcus Monk is Arkansas' only threat at receiver, a position that is even thinner with the impending transfer of Damian Williams.
Edge: Wisconsin
Wisconsin running game vs. Arkansas run defense: The Badgers will stick to what they've done best for years: run the football. This year, it's redshirt freshman P.J. Hill who has been the focus of the Wisconsin offense. The bruising Hill will give Arkansas defensive tackle Keith Jackson (74 tackles) and linebackers Sam Olajubutu and Weston Dacus (203 combined tackles) their toughest test of the season.
Edge: Wisconsin
Wisconsin passing game vs. Arkansas pass defense: Arkansas has struggled at times against good passing teams, especially if the opponent has multiple receiving threats (see: Alabama, LSU, Florida). Wisconsin will have a different look with Travis Beckum, who led all tight ends in the country with 56 catches for 821 yards, and receivers Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard. Wisconsin's ability to pass will be largely determined by All-American left tackle Joe Thomas and right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel's ability to stop defensive ends Antwain Robinson and Jamaal Anderson (18.5 sacks combined).
Edge: Arkansas
Coach vs. Coach: Bret Bielema, the Big Ten coach of the year, has worked wonders in his first season as Wisconsin's leader. The former Badgers defensive coordinator has overseen the nation's No. 3 team in scoring and total defense. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has made an offense that lost all of its skill players other than Stocco into a serviceable unit. At Arkansas, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was's National Coordinator of the Year. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring is a Broyles' Award finalist.
Edge: Even
Arkansas will win if: McFadden and Jones continue to do what they have done all year, which has led to more than 2,500 combined yards. Malzahn and Houston Nutt will have to find a way to solve a top defense and find more balance on offense, which has not happened in the last two games against Florida and LSU.
Wisconsin will win if: The Badgers score early and get a lead, putting the game in the hands of Arkansas' lackluster passing game. As LSU proved, McFadden and Jones can't always do it on their own.
Injury situation: Houston Nutt estimated McFadden was at about 90 percent after an ankle and Achilles tendon injury sustained in the SEC title game. Running back P.J. Hill has improved after a back injury limited him toward the end of the season. He was able to resume contact in practice before leaving for Orlando. Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum (hamstring) is likely to play after missing time in practice. Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis will not play due to a thigh bruise. Middle linebacker Weston Dacus missed several practices and was unable to eat because of the flu. Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu was hobbled in practice with a toe injury, but he should be ready for the bowl game.
Worth noting: Arkansas is making its first New Year's Day bowl appearance since losing to Oklahoma in the 2002 Cotton Bowl. This is its first bowl since beating Missouri in the Independence Bowl in 2003. The two teams last played on Nov. 9, 1912 in a 64-7 Wisconsin win in Madison. Arkansas' second-leading receiver, true freshman Damian Williams, will not play in the game after seeking a transfer.
Line: Arkansas by 2
Fox's pick: Wisconsin 27, Arkansas 21

Other Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Arkansas 28-21
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Arkansas 28-10
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Wisconsin 27-21
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Arkansas 24-20

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