This weekend, K-State will face an opponent that has not won in Manhattan since 2002. A team against which it is 7-3 in its last 10 meetings. A no-name program that's irrelevant in the history of college football.
Or, you know, the Texas Longhorns.
Even after the last 15 years of the Chisholm Trail Rivalry, I still did a double-take when I saw that K-State was -10 against Texas this weekend. Yes, Texas is still cleaning up the mess Mack Brown left. Yes, they're starting a freshman quarterback who was supposed to back up David Ash this year. Yes, they were blown out by BYU and lost to UCLA and nearly lost to Iowa State.
And yes, K-State is pretty good this year. Even so, seeing a double-digit line against the Longhorns takes me aback.
Players to Watch
Passing: Jake Waters, 108-166-3, 1,431 yards, 8.6 yards/attempt, 9 TDs, 238.5 yards/game
Rushing: Charles Jones, 69 carries, 339 yards, 4.9 yards/carry, 8 TDs, 56.5 yards/game
Receiving: Tyler Lockett, 35 receptions, 485 yards, 13.9 yards/reception, 4 TDs, 80.8 yards/game
Passing: Tyrone Swoopes, 130-213-5, 1,389 yards, 6.5 yards/attempt, 8 TDs, 198.4 yards/game
Rushing: Malcolm Brown, 103 carries, 396 yards, 3.8 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 49.3 yards/game
Receiving: Jaxon Shipley, 44 receptions, 452 yards, 10.3 yards/reception, 0 TD, 64.6 yards/game
As with any statistic measured over the entire course of Texas' season to date, the totals and averages above may not be indicative of the Longhorns' current ability. Swoopes averages a measly 6.5 yards per pass attempt, but in his past two games, he's gone for 344 yards on 7.6 yards per attempt (against Oklahoma) and 321 yards on 8.9 yards per attempt (against Iowa State). That type of growth may render earlier performances like those against UCLA (196 yards, 5.8 yards/attempt) and BYU (176 yards, 5.7 yards/attempt) less instructive.
That progress aside, Swoopes is still mistake prone, throwing two picks against Oklahoma and Iowa State. Texas is somewhat turnover-prone overall, with five interceptions and eight fumbles lost on the year. If they hand K-State the ball twice on Saturday, it will be difficult for the Longhorns to get a win in Manhattan.
On the K-State side, don't look now, but Curry Sexton has surpassed Lockett in receptions on the season, and only trails Lockett in receiving by only 73 yards. As always, Jake Waters is actually K-State's leading rusher, but with his deteriorating health, I won't be surprised to see his workload decrease.
K-State Advanced Stats
Success Rate: 47.6% (19th)
Rushing S&P: 58th
Passing S&P: 52nd
Standard Downs: 66th
Passing Downs: 31st
Drive Rating: 45th
Success Rate: 43.2% (82nd)
Rushing S&P: 9th
Passing S&P: 56th
Standard Downs: 35th
Passing Downs: 17th
Texas Advanced Stats
Success Rate: 42.4% (70th)
Rushing S&P: 52nd
Passing S&P: 65th
Standard Downs: 53rd
Passing Downs: 78th
Drive Rating: 49th
Success Rate: 40.9% (65th)
Rushing S&P: 55th
Passing S&P: 13th
Standard Downs: 25th
Passing Downs: 45th
Befitting its reputation as a bend-but-don't-break defense, K-State's Success Rate is pretty low. Fortunately for the Wildcats, this weakness should be masked somewhat this weekend, as Texas is below average at staying on schedule. The Longhorns also have not been an explosive offense this year, and K-State excels at preventing big plays.
On offense, K-State is very good at staying on schedule, and is above average in explosiveness. Texas is almost perfectly average in Success Rate, but very good at preventing big plays. With Jake Waters' health and effectiveness a question mark, and the matchups between these units, a low-scoring game is a good bet.
With that being the case, special teams could play a larger role than usual in determining the outcome. K-State is just slightly above average at 47th nationally in FEI's special teams rankings, but Texas has been putrid this year, ranking 118th. K-State's ranking is also likely affected by Jack Cantele's nightmare against Auburn. Assuming that Matt McCrane has the placekicking taken care of, K-State has the edge on special teams.
One more soft factor bears mentioning. This will be Swoopes' first start in a true road environment, and Manhattan will probably be rocking for the Longhorns' freshman. The Longhorns have also given the ball away almost twice per game on average. A rookie quarterback against an experienced defense in a hostile environment is usually
This game has the feel of an uncomfortably close, ugly slugfest. If both teams play to their average performance and K-State gets a couple turnovers and has the special teams edge, the Wildcats could win relatively comfortably. But if Waters is dinged up and isn't effective in the running game, and Swoopes continues his progress for the Longhorns, this one could get interesting quickly.
K-State 24, Texas 14