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Rocky Road Ahead: An Underdog's Guide

When the Big 12 released its new schedules last season, I made the not-really-all-that-bold claim that K-State would face the toughest four-game stretch of any team in the conference. I also started that post with a sentence that seems particularly relevant right now, but that’s not what this post is about.

On the bright side, it turns out KSU will only have to face the gauntlet that is OU, OSU, aTm and UT one time. Sadly, that time is now. With Missouri’s massive underachieving, the Wildcats are almost certainly facing the top 3 teams in the conference outside of Manhattan in their next four games, and Texas in Austin still presents a decent challenge.

What I didn’t take into consideration last season was that the Wildcats would benefit so much from having this stretch towards the end of the season. Let’s be honest, even if K-State were to lose just one or two of these games, it probably wouldn’t get as much national attention at 10-2 or possibly even 11-1 (particularly if that wasn’t enough to win the conference) as it’s getting at 7-0. College football loves it undefeateds.

At the end of the day, I’m still a firm believer that a round-robin schedule doesn’t leave much room for complaints and the cream will rise to the top. But like Newcastle FC for my brother, the unbeaten Wildcats' run against above-average but not great teams has given us hope and surely injected them with some all-important confidence.

Naturally, though, with the preaseason prejudices and statistical beliefs firmly entrenched, the national opinion will certainly have K-State as underdogs in its next two games, probably in its next three, and even possibly for all four during this stretch. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to provide the ‘Cats with this handy guide to help them pull off four more "upsets." 

TB already pretty well covered the basic things Bill Snyder’s team needs to do every game, along with some specifics for OU, so I’ll just add a little to that before moving on. I still believe K-State’s offense needs to stop relying so heavily on Klein running the ball, and ideally Tyler Lockett’s breakout game against Kansas will provide exactly the alternative weapon this offense needs.

vs. Oklahoma:

Again, not a lot to add to what TB said. A crucial part of this game will be preventing Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills or anyone else from making big plays, and continuing to play the bend-but-don’t-break defense we’ve seen all year. OU is ahead of only Texas percentage-wise in terms of scoring touchdowns in the red zone (55%) so this might not be as hard as you would think.

Pre-game preparation: Someone in the athletic department already had the great idea of displaying the 2003 Big 12 championship trophy, and it might even help to have the Wildcats watch Gameday Saturday morning as a reminder of the national respect they’re still not getting.

@ Oklahoma State:

Justin Blackmon’s status will be key for this one, but there’s absolutely no doubt that if he’s healthy, blitzing Brandon Weeden excessively will be akin to handing Oklahoma State touchdowns. In the one game where OSU looked beatable, the Cowboys had just 46 rushing yards against A&M, so it would be a good idea for K-State to ensure Joseph Randle doesn’t have a lot of room to run.

Defensively, Oklahoma State is incredibly opportunistic, with nine more turnovers than K-State or anyone else in the Big 12. That means Collin Klein will have to be smarter than usual with his throws, and the Wildcat runners will have to pay extra attention to ball security.

Quick sidenote: I’m going to be in the other Manhattan for this game, and if it’s at 3:30 I’m going to need some suggestions for where to go to watch it. If it’s at 8, I’m afraid I’m going to miss it because I managed to score a ticket for Book of Morman on Moro Broadway. No, I will not reveal how many goats I had to slaughter to get that ticket.

Pregame preparation: Photos of those awful gray jerseys could help put a bad taste in the mouths of Wildcat players, and it wouldn’t hurt to remind them of the absurd amounts of money T. Boone Pickens is raking in while they’re toiling for nothing but a scholarship.

vs. Texas A&M

The Aggies seem to have overcome their second half struggles, but I’d feel pretty good about K-State’s chances if they could take a lead into halftime in this one. Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael have the best rushing attack in the conference, even if Missouri is barely statistically better, so Arthur Brown had better bring his ‘A’ game for 60 minutes in this one.

A&M also has the only rushing defense statistically better than Kansas State in the conference, and while that’s partly a product of scheduling, it still means Klein will probably need to connect on a few downfield passes for K-State to win this one. It might even be a good time to bring out a trick play with Chris Harper or Angelo Pease taking a turn throwing the football.

Pregame preparation: Blaring an ESS-EEE-SEE chant over the speakers at BSFS during practice all week should do the trick.

@ Texas

Maybe the most important thing for K-State to do in Austin is to simply remember to put on their uniforms, as that seems to put some sort of fear into the Longhorns over the past few years. Giving the ball to the guy named Lockett may also be a good idea, if history is any indication.

Recent dominance of Texas aside, this seems like the type of game where K-State should basically just play disciplined on offense and let Texas beat itself, as Case McCoy and David Ash are wont to do. UT isn’t a team that’s going to beat you deep a lot, so the defense can probably help the Longhorns hand over the game by playing a little more aggressive, which is good news for Tysyn Hartman, David Garrett, and Nigel Malone.

Pregame preparation: A mandated hour a day of watching the Longhorn Network should be enough to get the blood boiling, but just in case, players will be given copies of the witty but ignorant and annoying or just straight-up disrespectful writing about the ‘Cats over at Barking Carnival.

In my estimation, going even 1-3 through this stretch could be acceptable, though it would likely still be painful in any scenario. 4-0 seems virtually impossible, and 3-1 would be a hell of an accomplishment, so 2-2 with a home win and a victory at Texas seems like a reasonable place to set your expectations.

No matter what happens, let's not forget the incredible determination this team has demonstrated in order to go 7-0, and the great joy it has brought all of us. Praise Snyder!