It still seems like a stretch to say that the Arkansas Razorbacks have it "too easy" against the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl, as Arkansas back-up wide receiver claimed on Twitter two days ago, but there may be some truth to his comment.
Here are three reasons why the Razorbacks are considered the early favorite:
1. The Arkansas run defense is extremely stout
Much like the overall trajectory for the Razorbacks over the season, the run defense has improved with the exception of a tough day against Georgia when star freshman running back Nick Chubb ran for over 200 yards. Otherwise, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss were all held under two yards per carry.
The Razorbacks do it defensively in kind of an odd way -- the nose tackle, Taiwan Johnson, is 255 pounds, the other defensive tackle is 280 or so pounds, but the defensive ends are between 255 and 270 pounds. And the linebackers are big as well. All-SEC selection Martrell Spaight is 232 pounds, while Brooks Ellis goes 244.
This is a big, stout front seven everywhere but in the middle, and while the Hogs get it done in a different manner than the Horned Frogs, the results have been similar -- Arkansas ranks No. 7 in rush defense S&P, while TCU ranks No. 6.
If Texas can only manage 2.5 yards per carry, as the Horns did on Thanksgiving, the Texas Bowl could get ugly early.
2. The Texas defense is designed to stop the pass
The 3-3-5 defense run by head coach Charlie Strong and his defensive staff can morph into a 4-3 Under defense and will have to transition to that against Arkansas. It won't be something the team has had to do much of this season after spending nearly the entirety of conference play in the nickel.
In fact, in the Big 12 there aren't any analogues for the type of ground-and-pound offense run by Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema -- Texas has faced some good running teams, but they have all done it from spread formations. Perhaps the closest in philosophy is Kansas State, but that's not a great comparison and the Wildcats don't feature running backs of near the quality as Arkansas.
The good news is that Texas will have multiple weeks of preparation instead of a handful of days, but this will be the biggest, most physical team that the Longhorns have faced all season and it represents a major change for a group that has been used to defending space and attempting to take away big passing plays with two deep safeties and bailing cornerbacks.
3. Arkansas has played much better than their record
The early part of the season for Arkansas was defined by close losses -- Bielema's team fell by a touchdown in a winnable game against the Aggies, a single point to the Crimson Tide, and by a touchdown to Mississippi State.
Then there was the impressive finish to the season, when everything started to come together in a shutout victory over LSU and another shutout in the 30-0 demolition of a reeling Ole Miss squad that committed six turnovers in that loss.
It's easy to scoff at the 2-6 conference record for the Razorbacks, but it belies a team that finally started to get it in the last several months after a difficult start to Bielema's tenure in Fayetteville. Make no mistake -- this is a dangerous team that the FEI metric has at No. 17 in the country. There may be plenty of bias in SEC country, but there's no bias in the numbers and those numbers say that the Hogs shutout two top-30 teams in the last month.
None of this really adds up to things being "too easy" for Arkansas unless a complete meltdown by Texas sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes happens again -- not entirely likely given that the Razorbacks intercepted only 11 passes this season.
But there are legitimate reasons why the Hogs are currently favored by nearly a touchdown over the Longhorns.