The conversation surrounding the No. 7 Kansas State Wildcats this week doesn't really need additional build-up.
Let's get after it ...
Does Kansas State feel like the No. 7 team in the country to you?
TB: This isn't fair, but no, not yet. This team hasn't had its coming out party yet, like the 2012 team had in Morgantown. And they don't need to blow out TCU to reach that status with me, but a win over the Frogs would help me believe.
JM: I don't see why not. Of the teams ranked below K-State, are any of them actually better? I can see a case for a few, but I don't see any where the answer is a clear yes.
00: I'm on the fence, really. Right now it feels like we're getting a lot of credit for (a) a 1-point win over OU that could have easily gone the other way (and even the most dyed-hard purple fans have to admit this is true), and (b) a loss to a top 4 team. I feel like the best is still ahead. On the other hand, what Jon says above is true too. There's nobody behind K-State I'd rank ahead of them either.
Kitchen: Normally, I like to think I'm pretty good at being able to back up and view things at a level where I can get a solid feel for ranks. I'll be honest, however, this season has been hard to find that groove. The State of Mississippi's sudden rise; the tottering of teams we thought were clear-cut great; and even the queasy up-and-down sway inside the Big 12 has made it hard to keep my bearings on what to expect from week to week.
But, we are two-thirds of the way through the season, and among the slew of one-loss teams, K-State is right there -- having only barely lost to fellow Top 10 Auburn ... so, why not? Maybe this team doesn't have the "guaranteed bad-ass" feel to it, but neither does the rest of the sport this year. Within the context of this season, the Wildcats have done their part in showing they belong in the conversation as much as any other program.
Let's talk about the College Football Playoff Committee, which seems to have a hankerin' for Bill Snyder's Wildcats, having ranked them higher than the other polls both weeks. In your estimation, why is K-State getting Committee love? Is this setting up for a bitter breakup (drop) should KSU lose a game?
TB: For those who understand the game, K-State has a lot going for it. They won in Norman and barely lost to one of the best teams in the country, in a game that by all rights they could have won. They're experienced across the board, they play consistently well every week, and they don't beat themselves with mistakes. There's an appeal to this team for a student of the game.
JM: My argument here remains that the committee is not beholden to the preconceived notions from preseason, and is just looking at the action on the field. The teams in between K-State's position in the polls and the committee rankings are there based largely on name, not resumé.
00: I'll take a different (and slightly more cynical) view. K-State is ranked higher than in the usual polls because the committee features people who know Bill Snyder and/or like what he stands for. The committee's approach seems to be based as much on an eyeball-test approach as on any preconceived notions of strength, excellence, etc. The eyeball-test helps K-State the same way it helps Alabama (minus the Tide's obvious name recognition advantage). We look like a good-to-great team right now.
Kitchen: I hear what you're all saying ... I'll go this direction: I think the Committee has shown it believes in Big 12 football (as long as teams continue to win, which is completely fair). With K-State and TCU (and even Baylor), I think we're seeing a committee that values conference strength as a weighty piece to its ranking discussion, and it's fortunate that the top half of the conference is strong.
As for the second part of the question, I expect the Committee to respond appropriately: the loser of this game, with two losses, should drop far enough that it is effectively removed from Playoff consideration even if it wins the remainder of its games.
It's past the midway point, but compared to your preseason thoughts, is this team where you thought it would be, sitting at 7-1, 5-0?
TB: They've exceeded my expectations. I was expecting 6-2 at this point, with losses to Auburn and Oklahoma.
JM: This depends on when you measured my preseason thoughts, I guess. When we polled the staff in late spring, I had OU pegged as a loss. By the start of the season, I had already begun wavering on that. So either K-State is on my schedule, or just a little ahead of.
00: About the same, surprisingly enough. I thought this team would be at 7-1 now, because I was convinced we'd beat Auburn but lose to OU. I'm pretty happy it turned out the other way.
Kitchen: In various settings, I was asked to predict a record, and I thought the floor/ceiling was somewhere between 8 and 10 wins. Like TB, I thought 6-2 was reasonable at this juncture, but in noooooo way did I think a 7-1 mark would mean a No. 7 ranking with less than five games remaining. That was totally unexpected, and it's added another level of fun to my personal glorious sports fall.
Jonathan Truman and Dante Barnett lead the team in average tackles per game, but is Travis Britz the defensive MVP of the Big 12's best defense?
TB: Yes. Truman isn't making those tackles if Britz isn't doing the boring and thankless, but vitally necessary work of smashing into two massive human beings 75 times each game. Truman, Barnett, Dakorey Johnson, Randall Evans, Danzel McDaniel, and everyone else on this defense deserves praise because they execute their assignments with discipline and they're above-average tacklers. But Britz deserves every bit the praise that they get.
JM: I'm not going to dispute the notion, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Britz when I say this, but I'm not sure we should be saying "Travis Britz" so much as "random defensive lineman playing the best game any given week". We've had games where it was Mueller; we've had games where it was Willis. Hech, we've probably had games where it was Coleman, but since he didn't rack up a couple of sacks and a TFL or two, we didn't notice. In other words, the entire DL has quietly been fantastic all year. But Britz is a stud, no question.
00: What Jon said. Britz deserves all sorts of props because he is a beast and he can just come from nowhere and flatten people. I like to see that sort of intensity and speed. That said, a whole of people on this defense have been playing really well, and as a unit, the DL really deserves an award of some sort.
Kitchen: Yup. We're all smart enough to know that KSU's defensive philosophy (fill gaps, play to your role, don't get beat deep, finish tackles) starts up front. Britz has anchored the line and really set the tone for the other defensive tackles who rotate next to him. He's the kind of guy you want to punch in the shoulder and say "ya, Big Lug!" (I offer up Morse to try it ... just in case Britz had a bad day or something and decides to turn a puncher guy into glue.)
How does the defense fare against Trevone Boykin and the TCU Horned Frogs offense on Saturday?
TB: Keeping pocket contain on Boykin will be huge in this game. We know this defense can make it difficult for spread passing teams by keeping the windows small and limiting big plays. But we can't have containment breakdowns like we did against Sam Richardson and Iowa State. If you show me Boykin's scramble stats after the game, I will probably have a good idea of the result.
JM: Yeah, precisely. Honestly, the only way K-State loses this game (defensively, anyway) is to let Boykin run wild. He's not going to beat the Wildcats through the air (largely because he's just as liable to beat himself), and K-State is sufficiently deadly against the straight run to keep that aspect in check.
00: No real disagreement here, although I will say that I think Boykin is capable of doing some damage through the air as well. He's good with play action and against Minnesota (insert LOLB1G joke here), he did pretty well passing, although he was working with a short field most of the time.
Kitchen: I think the Big 12's best defense will do fairly well. It saw Nick Marshall and handled him effectively enough, I felt. It saw Tyrone Swoopes and kept Texas off the scoreboard. Don't let Boykin hit a couple of deep throws. If TCU is able to let loose and fly deep because Boykin stands in the pocket unimpeded, it could be trouble. Get pressure from within the system, and let your heavy hitters light him up. The rest will work itself out at that point because the pressure will make Boykin antsy.