East Carolina (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
Jan. 2, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
East Carolina take by Independents and others blogger Graham Watson: East Carolina made Conference USA history this past weekend by becoming the first team to win back-to-back Conference USA titles since the game went into the championship format.
After last season’s C-USA championship, the Pirates weren’t able to follow up with a bowl victory and they’re hoping to change their fortunes this year.
East Carolina has never faced Arkansas, and is just 4-12 against SEC opponents in its history. A win in the bowl would give the Pirates their first 10-win season since winning 11 in 1991.
This will be a great test for an East Carolina defense that stifled Houston in the C-USA championship. The Pirates allow just 22.08 points per game, but have been gashed in yardage this year. Arkansas has one of the best scoring offenses in the country this year with 37.33 points per game to go along with 439.33 yards per game.
East Carolina has a couple of things going for it in this matchup. Not only have the Pirates seen a high-powered offense and defeated it, but its seniors have been carrying the team from the beginning and want to end on a good note. This game will likely be a lot closer than many expect.
Arkansas take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Arkansas had two problems this season -- playing away from home and stopping people on defense. The Hogs didn’t win a true road game in 2009 and finished the regular season ranked last in the SEC in total defense.
Still, the Hogs flirted with nine wins in Bobby Petrino’s second season in Fayetteville and were one of the most exciting and productive offensive clubs in the league. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett was the SEC’s top newcomer after transferring from Michigan and needs one more touchdown pass in the bowl game to reach the 30-plateau for the season.
As good as Mallett was this season, the playmakers around him were equally good. Receivers Greg Childs, Joe Adams and Jarius Wright all took turns making big plays, while D.J. Williams is one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the SEC.
Had the Hogs been able to muster a little more defense in the final minute against LSU in regulation or cover anybody in their 52-41 loss to Georgia back in September, this could easily be a nine-win team right now. And don’t forget about the 23-20 loss to Florida in October ... and the phantom personal foul penalty.