We are currently less than 48 hours until the kickoff of the conference opener in Austin. You would never know it by reading the newspapers. I suppose they're saving up for tomorrow's big preview editions, but there has been a serious lack of coverage. If you want, you can read about how K-State running back James Johnson and Texas running back Jamaal Charles were football teammates in high school. Also, you can read the KC Star version or the Topeka Capitol-Journal edition. I've never done a substantive content analysis, but the Star and the TCJ have eerily similar K-State sports content every day.
Just because I like to write dramatic pieces, I always wish I could write a post about the upcoming game being a transcendent moment in the history of K-State football. But this weekend really isn't. Next weekend may be a different story, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Any game against a top-10 team is a big game. But this game isn't some sort of must-win, make-or-break game, any more than I consider every game a must-win. We know the Cats aren't going to win a national title this year. And if we lose to Texas in Austin, well, big deal, everyone figured we would. True, it will suck for me more than most, because I actually live down here. But Texas arrogance runs deep down here, and to most Longhorn fans, K-State these days is little more than a pissant annoyance from some rural Kansas outpost. The days of 48-7 and 35-17 beatdowns by the Cats have been long forgotten under an avalanche of Vince Young newspaper clippings.
True, we are now in Year 2 of the Ron Prince tenure. We should be hoping to see improvement. Through three games, I can say with confidence we look at least as good as last year. Say what you will about Auburn being down this year, but they have a very good defense (and individual playmakers on defense) and a huge home-crowd advantage. We saw our team handle a hostile crowd much better than it did last year, and whether they'll admit it or not now, the Auburn fans I talked to after the game admitted K-State should have won that game. That doesn't mean anything, but as a comparison to last year, it's a positive. We had a flat game but still rolled to an easy win over San Jose State the next week, and then blew out Missouri State in the third game.
Big deal, you say? Well yeah, clearly SJSU and MoSU aren't even close to K-State's level. But look at the comparison to last year. The big game in our non-conference schedule was a 24-6 home loss to Louisville last year. This year, we went to Auburn and dominated for 57 minutes before slipping to a loss. Last year we had a lethargic effort that led to a 23-7 win over Marshall, in a game that wasn't put away until the fourth quarter. This year we beat SJSU 37-14 in a game that was never really in doubt. And finally, we beat FIU 45-0 last year, but only rolled up 346 total yards. This year, we beat MoSU, 61-10, and gained 546 yards.
Am I picking nits to find improvement here? Maybe. You can also find areas where we've regressed this year. The most obvious area is penalties. Hard to believe we could see worse than a season in which the team averaged 56 penalty yards per game, but then again I'm guessing Texas figured it couldn't get worse than losing to K-State last year, either. In the new year, the Cats are averaging a whopping 133 penalty yards per game. That absolutely cannot continue to happen. Overall, I like what Ron Prince is doing, but he needs to figure out how to reduce the penalties. That, and he needs to stop being bold and daring on punts from deep in our own territory.
For more of my thoughts on Ron Prince and this weekend's game, check out this post on Burnt Orange Nation. The commentary from me is in the blockquote, in the middle of the post.
Have a great weekend. The Open Game Thread will go up tomorrow morning because I will be leaving for Austin tomorrow and probably will not have Internet access most of the weekend. I promise to make up for my absence with a copious amount of pictures on Sunday.