ARLINGTON -- Arkansas players, along with coach Bobby Petrino, like to say they're the only college football program in America with three home stadiums.
There's the one on campus in Fayetteville, Ark. There's the venue in Little Rock where the Razorbacks play twice a year. And then there's JerryWorld, the only stadium on the "home" rotation where the Hogs truly are undefeated through the years.
No. 6 Arkansas exercised its favored tenant status once again Friday night in Cowboys Stadium, outlasting No. 8 Kansas State 29-16 in an AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic that had all the pomp and circumstance of a BCS game. But without all the empty seats.
(Memo to short-sighted Sugar Bowl officials: Yes, K-State fans will travel. Do your homework next time before inviting an inferior team to sparsely populate the Superdome. And the DFW tourism industry thanks you for your foolishness).
As for the football, the Wildcats simply couldn't keep pace with the Razorbacks' deep collection of offensive playmakers in the second half in front of a crowd of 80,956. After watching a 19-0 lead dwindle to 19-16 in the latter stages of the third quarter, Arkansas moved 58 yards for a game-turning touchdown that began the march toward a 4-0 career record in Cowboys Stadium.
And validated the venue, once again, as the Hogs' favorite Dome Away from Home.
Arkansas has recorded all four of those victories the past three years, including a 3-0 mark against Texas A&M in regular-season matchups. This one, however, came with added significance because it allowed Arkansas (11-2) to tie the school record for victories in a season, reached previously in the 1964 and 1977 seasons.
By beating K-State (10-3), the Razorbacks won the lone head-to-head matchup of the postseason between teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12. The Hogs also became the fourth consecutive SEC team to prevail in the Cotton Bowl.
But the most important offshoot of Friday's victory, in the estimation of Arkansas players, is what the triumph will do for the team heading into the 2012 season. Arkansas' only losses in 2011 came against No. 1 LSU (13-0) and No. 2 Alabama (11-1), the participants in Monday's BCS National Championship Game.
With a strong nucleus returning next season, led by quarterback Tyler Wilson, the Razorbacks viewed Friday's game as the first step toward a possible national title run next season.
"We've talked about getting out of here with 11 wins and setting up the team for next year, to be able to come back in the Top 5," said receiver Jarius Wright, a senior who grabbed three passes for 88 yards and a TD in his final college game. "We knew this win would be very big. It's real important."
With the victory, the Razorbacks should be a Top 5 team in next year's initial polls. And, with both Alabama and LSU scheduled to play at Arkansas in 2012, there is reason to hope for a special season if the Hogs can be as productive at their other two home stadiums as they are at the one in Arlington.
The Razorbacks claimed their latest win in Cowboys Stadium despite a slow start by the offense. Arkansas put 10 points on the board before notching its initial first down, thanks to Joe Adams' 51-yard punt return for a touchdown and a recovered fumble that set up a 3-yard march to a field goal.
Adams' punt return TD, his fourth of the season, involved several spectacular open-field moves and -- based on replays -- perhaps a block in the back that went undetected. It marked the first punt return TD in a Cotton Bowl in 51 years, since former Arkansas standout Lance Alworth turned the trick in 1961.
And it gave the Razorbacks a double-digit lead that eventually grew to 19-0 when Wilson found Wright on a 45-yard scoring strike. But K-State blocked the PAT and Nigel Malone returned it for two points to put the Wildcats on the scoreboard and turn the momentum. At least temporarily.
A pair of touchdowns on K-State's final drive of the first half and opening drive of the second half cut the deficit to 19-16 before the Razorbacks pulled away down the stretch. The Wildcats' offense managed only 260 yards while becoming the second Big 12 team to drop a bowl game in eight postseason opportunities.
Wilson, who threw for a game-high 216 yards, said the 11th victory was special to him because "there haven't been very many 11-win teams in the history of our school. And I want to be an 11-win starting quarterback."
Now, he is. And the Razorbacks have stated their case as an early contender for the 2012 national championship by remaining undefeated in their Texas "home."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760