Crazy to think the bowl selections were unveiled less than a week ago. Seems longer. But as No. 8 Kansas State and No. 6 Arkansas prepare to meet in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Jan. 6 at Cowboys Stadium excitement continues to build. The following is a Q&A with head coaches Bill Snyder and Bobby Petrino and Cotton Bowl officials as they participated in a teleconference on Friday.
COTTON BOWL CHAIRMAN TOMMY BAIN: "We're really excited about the matchup between Arkansas and Kansas State, two top‑10 teams. I might add there are only two other bowls that feature higher‑ranked teams. We're really proud of that. Kansas State and Arkansas are long time friends of the Cotton Bowl, so we feel like we have family coming to the 2012 Cotton Bowl. This will be the Wildcats' third appearance, their first since 2001. This is the Razorbacks' 12th appearance in the Classic and the second in the last five years. This is a tremendous matchup because of the demand for tickets. It's going to be wonderful for our North Texas community. Everyone here is looking forward to it."
COTTON BOWL TEAM SELECTION CHARIMAN FIN EWING: "I think I did a great job again. This is going to be an awesome football game. We're all real excited about it. Coach Petrino has done an outstanding job at Arkansas, and Coach Snyder, he did such a good job the first time he decided to come back and do it all over again. We feel we're really lucky. Tommy, (Cotton Bowl President/Executive Director) Rick Baker, (Cotton Bowl Vice President of Communications) Charlie Fiss and I were looking at Arkansas really early on, and we were looking at K State early on. We thought we were going to lose both of them, then we got them back. I mean, it was crazy down to the last second. We never knew what was going on till they came out with all the BCS. We feel very fortunate to have both of them and we're looking forward to a great football game."
COTTON BOWL PRESIDENT/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RICK BAKER: "I just want to echo what Fin and Tommy had to say. I want to thank K State and Arkansas for giving us the honor of hosting their fine football teams. We certainly promise to (Arkansas athletics director) Jeff (Long) and (K-State athletics director) John (Currie), Coach Snyder and Coach Petrino, that we'll do a great job hosting your fine young men, and that we'll certainly make sure it's a just reward for a very successful season. I especially want to thank the athletic directors, specifically their staffs. We've had a great initial week here of trading information. Both of the staffs have been incredibly cooperative and wonderful. We're certainly looking forward to working with them here throughout the next month. Thank you very much. Look forward to a great AT&T Cotton Bowl week."
K-STATE ATHLETICS DIRECTOR JOHN CURRIE: "Certainly it's an honor for President (Kirk) Schulz and the entire K State community to be a participant in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Obviously Coach Snyder and Coach Petrino have done a great job this year. One of the interesting things about this matchup is I think it represents two institutions academically who are on the rise as national academic universities. President Kirk Schulz has K State focused on 'K-State 2025,' which is a plan to move K State into the ranks top 50 public research universities. And showcasing our university under Coach Snyder's leadership in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl is a tremendous opportunity in that regard."
ARKANSAS ATHLETICS DIRECTOR JEFF LONG: "Appreciate having the opportunity to speak to you all today. We're obviously thrilled to be going to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, playing a great program like Kansas State. Have a great deal of respect for Coach Snyder and certainly my friend John Currie and what they're doing at Kansas State. We're extremely proud of Coach Petrino and his staff, particularly our student‑athletes for their outstanding season. We put together two back‑to‑back 10‑win seasons and we're thrilled with where our program is. As you alluded to, Tommy and Rick, we've had a great experience with the Cotton Bowl, our 12th appearance. We're thrilled to be coming back down there. As you all know, we recruit many students as well as student‑athletes out of the Dallas and Texas area, so we're just excited for the natural fit it is for the Arkansas Razorbacks to be coming to play in the world's finest stadium. So we're just thrilled to be there. Thank you."
BILL SNYDER: "Thank you very much to all the committee and Rick in particular. I've known Rick for quite some time. We have a great appreciation for the opportunity to participate in really a classic bowl game. My congratulations to Coach Petrino and the University of Arkansas. What a tremendous season they have had. I know that my appreciation is representative of our student‑athletes and our coaches and our staff here as well as the entirety of our university, the students. It's a very travel‑able opportunity for them. They will be there in force, as many of them as can get tickets. I've reminded Rick on numerous occasions that the last time we were at the Cotton Bowl, we had somewhere in the vicinity of 55,000 fans, which I think was instrumental in the success of our program quite certainly, and certainly of the Cotton Bowl as well. But we do have a tremendous appreciation and we're very, very grateful to have the opportunity."
BOBBY PETRINO: "Thank you very much. Our coaching staff, entire university is excited to be going to the AT&T Cotton Bowl and playing a great Kansas State team. Rick Baker and his staff at the Cotton Bowl do a tremendous job, they run a very first‑class bowl. I'd like to congratulate Coach Snyder and Kansas State on their season, their winning of 10 games. I'm very proud of our football team for the way we've stuck together all season. It doesn't always happen on every team. The mentality of this team has allowed us to be successful. Our team looks forward to the challenge. This game gives us an opportunity to send our seniors out with another win and become one of the best teams in school history. I know the state of Arkansas is very excited to be traveling down to Dallas and getting ready for the January 6th game.
Coach Snyder, I was curious if you could run through the schedule for the guys right now, for the team, in preparation before heading down to Dallas. SNYDER: "Well, we're going through a variety of different things. We have an awards ceremony on Sunday night, we have graduation on Saturday. We're trying to piece some practice time in over the course of the weekend. We have graduation on Sunday for a number of our participants. All of them are graduating, some of them are in their last year of eligibility, some still have eligibility remaining. During the course of final exams next week, we'll piece in a couple of practices and then have to begin in earnest towards the end of the week. We'll work up through approximately the 23rd of December, practice on that day, then our players have an opportunity to go home for Christmas before we come back, finish up our practice routine here, then travel on the 31st to Dallas."
Coach Snyder, we're in the few days here of a lot of national awards and honors, culminating with the Heisman on Saturday night. I know your quarterback Collin Klein is probably not going to receive any of them, yet I think you can make a case that he's among the most under‑appreciated players in college football. Am I on the right track with that? SNYDER: "Well, he's not under‑appreciated by me nor his teammates. I understand exactly where you're coming from. There just isn't a category for him, other than what you just indicated. He's kind of that utility guy. He can do quite a few things. We have such a great appreciation for him here. He has developed as a very quality leader within our program. All of our players, as well as coaches, have tremendous respect for him, how he has demonstrated his both mental and physical toughness throughout the course of the year. On top of all that, probably the most significant, he's an amazing young person, very quality young man. All of his intrinsic values are in place. A very quality and unique young man."
Coach Petrino, what are your impressions of Collin Klein, and how do you defend a guy like that? PETRINO: "He's going to create for us a great challenge. He's first very, very talented, a tremendous runner, has really shown that he can throw the football with anybody in the country. We're going to have to be very disciplined on defense, do a great job with our eyes and be able to tackle well. I think that's the one thing, not only in the quarterback runs that they call for him but also in his ability to scramble out on pass calls."
Coach Snyder, a little bit off topic. I wonder if you crossed paths with Charlie Weis, or thoughts on him being the new coach at Kansas? SNYDER: "I think he'll do a wonderful job. I'm quite certain of that. I think his reputation has been extremely positive. I think the world of Sheahon Zenger. I know it was a very quality hire for the University of Kansas. I'm anxious to have an opportunity to see him and visit with him. I don't know him, but I certainly know of his background. Been a tremendous portion of collegiate football as well as the NFL. Anyway, I think he's an awfully good hire."
Coach Snyder, could you comment at all on some of the coaching honors that you've won recently. What are your thoughts on those? SNYDER: "I'm not sure what all of them might be. Anything, any honors we would receive, I think are collective honors. That's more than just saying what you're supposed to say. I have a very quality staff that I'm very proud of. These things don't happen without a quality staff. They don't happen without young people in our program who are so committed to what they're doing, so willing to discipline themselves to do the right things both on and off the field and in the classroom. Young guys that try diligently to try to improve their performance level day in and day out and are truly committed to that. To have a great staff and a wonderful fan base that's always been amazing here at Kansas State running from our students to our faculty, administration, all of those people throughout the country that support our program. Whatever they are, it's truly a collective honor."
With the extra months leading up to the bowl, are you having some players coming back healthy that you haven't had in a while? SNYDER: "Well, I think we've got bumps and bruises, some guys that have been out for a while that may have an opportunity to get back. But by and large most of those that have been out through the latter stages of the season will be out for the bowl game as well."
Bobby, you've had some changes on your defensive staff. Can you talk about the things that led to that, just maybe where you are in making some replacement hires. PETRINO: "We're real excited for Coach Smith, what he did for our staff. For him to be able to go back to Weber State, be the head coach at the university he graduated from is really exciting for him. We wish him all the best of luck. He certainly did a great job for us in coordinating the special teams and coaching the linebackers. We're in the process of working through who our next hire is going to be as the defensive coordinator. Our coaches are all back off the road right now. We've had two good practices yesterday and today. We're excited. Our players are excited to practice and work hard to get better for the bowl game."
We spoke yesterday to some guys. Bobby Allen is with the secondary, Kevin Peoples with the line. Can you talk about what you see in bowl practice? PETRINO: "I think we're very fortunate that we have Bobby Allen on our staff. He's coordinated defenses, done a great job as a coordinator. Spent most of his career in the secondary working with the safeties and the defensive backs. It's an easy transition for him to come back here, one he's extremely excited about. We've had Kevin Peoples on our staff now for two years knowing there's going to be an opportunity for him to step in and work with the defensive front, something that he's done his entire career as a coach. I think he's very, very good at it. I know he's excited to be out there the last two days and has done a really nice job."
Bobby, what kind of qualities are you looking for in a new defensive coordinator? PETRINO: "Well, there's a lot involved in that. I'm not sure today is the day to get into that. First of all, anytime you hire somebody, you're looking at their experience, their character, what you know about them, how they're going to relate to our players, how our players are going to relate to them. There are a number of things that are involved in making that decision."
How are you for the bowl game health‑wise? Is there any chance that Mal could play in this game? PETRINO: "I feel like we're really healthy. We've had most everybody out there at practice. Luckily we were healthy most of the year, late part of the year I guess I should say. It's nice to have Jake Bequette, Tenarius back practicing together the entire time. I still don't think there is a chance for Knile. He's out there, he looks good, he's moving around, running well, he's anxious to play, but he still has to go through the process of removing the screw that's in his ankle."
Is there anybody on your staff that possibly can be considered for the defensive coordinator job? PETRINO: "We're in the process of evaluating everything and how we're going to move forward."