It's that time of year again. No, it's not quite time to break out the turkey yet, although we're getting close. And no, it's still way too early for Christmas carols. So what is it time for?
The Chisholm Trail Rivalry, that's what.
K-State travels to Austin this weekend to face the team that has been its unlikeliest whipping boy over the history of the Big 12. Bill Snyder's powerhouse teams of the late 1990s got things rolling with big wins over Mack Brown's first two teams. After a brief hiatus at the beginning of the Vince Young era, Ron Prince (of all people) reasserted the Wildcats' upper hand with two consecutive victories. Snyder embarrassed the Longhorns in Manhattan last year to run K-State's Big 12 record against UT to 5-2.
This year's Texas team enters the game 6-3 after an ugly road loss to Missouri. Texas is much improved over last year, when it went 5-7 and missed a bowl game, and will undoubtedly put up a much tougher fight against K-State than we saw in Manhattan. Yet despite the decided talent advantage UT holds in this game, the Longhorns still haven't figured out how to put everything together. I take that back. They've put it together pretty well on defense. But that offense remains, at best, a work in progress.
Players to Watch
Rushing: John Hubert, 161 carries, 781 yards, 4.9 yards/carry, 2 TD, 78.1 yards/game
Passing: Collin Klein, 129-219-5, 1,504 yards, 6.9 yards/attempt, 10 TDs, 150.4 yards
Receiving: Chris Harper, 37 receptions, 509 yards, 4 TD, 50.9 yards/game
Defensive Line: Ray Kibble, 29 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks
Linebackers: Arthur Brown, 78 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT
Secondary: David Garrett, 65 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT
Rushing: Malcolm Brown, 131 carries, 635 yards, 4.8 yards/carry, 5 TD, 90.7 yards/game
Passing: David Ash, 77-133-6, 887 yards, 6.7 yards/attempt, 3 TD, 98.6 yards/game
Receiving: Mike Davis, 33 receptions, 521 yards, 15.8 yards/reception, 1 TD, 57.9 yards/game
Defensive Line: Jackson Jeffcoat, 49 tackles, 12 TFL, 4.0 sacks
Linebackers: Emmanuel Acho, 87 tackles, 15 TFL, 2.0 sacks
Secondary: Kenny Vaccaro, 63 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT
At last! A team with offensive numbers as pedestrian as K-State's! Actually, in some ways much more pedestrian. David Ash actually has a worse yards-per-attempt average than does Collin Klein. And he throws twice as many interceptions as he does touchdowns, although he doesn't throw a whole lot of either. Still, given Nigel Malone's play on defense this year, and the fact that David Garrett will be covering the other half of the field, I like our chances to pick off a couple passes.
Defensive, as you'll see even more soon, Texas is building a monster, if it isn't one already. Acho is a beast who, unlike Frank Alexander, isn't prone to kicking puppies (and still not being flagged). With athletes like Acho and Jeffcoat, among others in the front seven, K-State is going to have a hard time finding running lanes and time for Klein to throw.
Team Statistics (from CFBStats.com)
K-State: 208.5 yards/game, 22nd nationally
Texas: 227.4 yards/game, 15th
K-State: 155.6 yards/game, 109th
Texas: 188.6 yards/game, 93rd
K-State: 364.1 yards/game, 86th
Texas: 416 yards/game, 44th
K-State: 117.2 yards/game, 26th
Texas: 101.2 yards/game, 10th
Pass Efficiency Defense
K-State: 410.7 yards/game, 81st
Texas: 313.8 yards/game, 14th
Fortunately, Texas isn't built to take advantage of K-State's defensive weakness. The Longhorns are miserable throwing the ball on the season. It's possible that this game will be a lot like the regulation portion of last week's game against Texas A&M, only with a lot of running from UT rather than that newfangled passing the Aggies were doing.
Overall, these teams figure to be a very close match. A game like this will very likely come down to either a scheme advantage or the hidden-yards stats. Let's take a look at that matchup.
K-State: +9, 10th nationally
Texas: +/- 0, 62nd
K-State: 39.7 yards/game, 19th
Texas: 51.3 yards/game, 64th
K-State: 49.05 percent, 29th
Texas: 45.52 percent, 33rd
K-State: 86.5 percent, 33rd
Texas: 75.6 percent, 99th
Time of Possession
K-State: 35.01, 1st
Texas: 34:08, 5th
Turnover margin and red-zone conversions tell the tale here. Texas is treading water on the season despite its defense forcing almost two turnovers per game, while K-State forced a turnover more than twice as often as it commits one. If K-State can force a couple turnovers in this one, I feel pretty good about our chances.
Texas also is not the most efficient team in the red zone, and if K-State does anything consistently well on defense, it's stop teams in the red zone. An unexplosive offense, against a K-State defense that is solid against the run, and that isn't particularly good even when it does get to the end zone gives K-State a decent chance even if it can't force turnovers.
This is the game K-State needs if it wants to clinch a Cotton Bowl appearance. It would give K-State head-to-head wins over its primary competition for the game and at least a nine-win season. But winning in Austin won't be a slam dunk, even if Texas isn't exactly what it was five years ago. Still, I think K-State has enough to get this done. The Wildcats get out of Austin with a 22-17 win.