Arkansas (7-5) vs. East Carolina (9-4)
Jan. 2, 5:30 p.m., (ESPN)
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.