FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is set to face Kansas in the Dec. 28 AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Sam Pittman talked to the media briefly on Sunday evening after accepting the invite. Among the topics was does he expect to have both coordinators for the bowl game? Defensive coordinator Barry Odom has been linked to the Tulsa job, but sources indicate he’s staying at Arkansas despite reports he’s the leading candidate for the job.

“I do,” Pittman said of having both coordinators for the bowl. “Yes. Here’s all I’m saying. I’m in Texas trying to walk into a home visit, and the ol’ boy sitting next to me is named Barry Odom. So if that has anything to do with the Liberty Bowl, then it does. Go Hogs.”

Both Arkansas and Kansas are 6-6 on the season. Kansas started the season 5-0 and the Hogs came out of the gate 3-0. Pittman talked about going to Memphis and facing Lance Leopold’s Jayhawks.

“I tell you what, we’re so excited to play a team like Kansas University, who had such a wonderful year and turned their program around,” Pittman said. “Coach Leipold is such a fine coach. The way they play, how hard they play. 

“We’re just excited to be bowl eligible for the third year in a row, and specifically [going to] the Liberty Bowl. The Liberty Bowl is a wonderful bowl. We have great relationships with the Liberty Bowl people and our team will be excited and is excited to accept this invitation.”

Pittman was asked how familiar he is with the Jayhawks?

“I do not know Coach, but I know of his reputation, and what they did — not just only this year, but some of the things that they did last year — were outstanding,” Pittman said. “He certainly has won everywhere he’s been, including Kansas University. I coached at Kansas in 2001, I think, so 21 years ago. It’s a wonderful university, great academics. Certainly they have a fine, fine football program. That’s what I know about him. I went to Pittsburg State. I coached at Hutchinson Junior College. So I have a lot of ties in Kansas and certainly coached at KU as well.”

Bowl games are now different than a few years ago. Now both schools have to deal with opt outs. Pittman talked about his team in that regard and does he expect to have the majority of his team?

“Yes, I do,” Pittman said. “Obviously, the opt-out of bowls has been something now that’s been going on for quite a little while. And we’ll certainly have our share of guys that do that as well. But, you know, KJ Jefferson’s gonna be in that bowl. Rocket Sanders is gonna be in that bowl. Majority of our offensive linemen, our D-linemen. We’re gonna have a team that’s going to be there ready, excited and ready to compete against a fine KU team. But I feel very strong that we’ll have good representation, and we certainly need our older leadership. We’re going to use the next 10 or 12 practices to head start into next year as well.”

Jefferson announced Friday he’s returning to Arkansas for the 2023 season and that obviously pleased Pittman.

“Well, KJ’s the leader of our program, and he also happens to play quarterback,” Pittman said. “He’s a great person, works his tail off. He’s excited to participate in the Liberty Bowl, we’re excited to have him back. But it’s a huge deal for the university, and it just shows the culture of our football team that he would elect to come back and be a part of it. As he said in (a release on Friday), we’ve got some unfinished business, and I believe that starts with this bowl game.”

It’s known that center Ricky Stromberg and wide receiver Jadon Haselwood are heading to the 2023 NFL Draft and opted out of the bowl. Pittman talked about how he will replace that pair.

“Well, I think obviously you have Marcus Henderson,” Pittman said. “I think we have to figure out how we can be the best five up on the offensive line. Certainly Beaux Limmer. I think part of his future is going to be at center as well, so this would be a good time to get him reps at that position.

“So I think obviously, I think we want to move Ketron Jackson, we were gonna move him anyway. So it’ll be a good time to move him into that slot position if that’s what we choose to do. And go from there. I think we’re going to be fine. Obviously you recruit for a reason, and certainly depth is one of those reasons. I think we have, and really it’s those kids’ time. It’s their time to shine, and we’re not really gonna be concerned about who we don’t have in a bowl game. We’re just gonna be concerned about who we do. And we’re gonna go there and represent the Southeastern Conference.”

Pittman also was asked about the number of practices his team will have?

“Well, obviously, we knew what tier of bowl that we would have an opportunity to be in, and so we’ve gone over that,” Pittman said. “Right now, it looks like we’re gonna be able to have at least 10 practices. We may try to add another one. But right now, the Liberty Bowl has been good to us and we might do a three-night stay out there. Excuse me, a four-night stay, maybe getting in on Christmas. But we’ll be able to get at least 10 practices in. Certainly with the transfer portal window and all those type things and recruiting, we’re not going to be able to get the 15 in because obviously of the portal and things of that nature and the ‘23 class. But I do think we can get every bit of 10, and our goal will be no less than 10 practices.”

While Arkansas defeated Penn State 24-10 in the Outback Bowl last season, Kansas hasn’t been to a bowl since 2008. Does matching the energy of the Jayhawks concern Pittman?

“I think that is a concern, I do,” Pittman said. “You look at our team, even though we practiced all the way up until we’re getting ready to go to the plane, on the plane in another bowl my first year, we didn’t get to participate until last year, and we certainly were chomping at the bit to go and play. We aren’t a team that spends every single year in a bowl. The Liberty Bowl is a big, big, huge deal for us, and we should have a really good home-field advantage with the crowd. And so there’s a lot of reasons that winning the bowl game would give us an opportunity to have a winning season. The great bowl games are the ones you win, so I know KU will be pumped up about it, certainly deserve what they’re getting, certainly deserve all that. But we can only control ourselves, and I can promise you we’ll be ready to play.”

This will be Arkansas’ sixth appearance in the Liberty Bowl. They lost the first three, but have won the last two.