This was only the second time in the BCS era that a non-BCS bowl had two teams with higher BCS rankings playing than teams in a BCS bowl (the first being the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl). The 2012 Sugar Bowl, and 2012 Orange Bowl have teams with lower BCS rankings squaring off.
Arkansas brought into this game a 10–2 record that included a perfect 7–0 at home. Quarterbacking for the Razorbacks was No. 8 Tyler Wilson (Jr., 6–3, 220). The team was ranked 13th (1st in the SEC) in passing offense (307.8 yards per game) and 27th (1st in SEC) in total offense (445.8 yards per game). In 2011, Wilson threw for 3,422 yards (285 yards per game) for 22 touchdowns with a 63.1 percent pass completion.
2011 National and Big 12 Coach of the Year Bill Snyder brought into this game a successful ground game that went 10–2 during the 2011 season. Quarterbacking for the Wildcats was No. 7 Collin Klein (Jr. 6–5, 226). Klein ranked second nationally in rushing with his 1,099 net yards and had 26 rushing scores. He passed for 12 touchdowns, fifth nationally. Running back John Hubert had 933 rushing yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats in 2011.