K-State travels to Fort Worth to face Texas Christian on Saturday night in a game with enormous implications for the Big 12 championship race and who - or whether - the Big 12 will have a representative in the inaugural college football playoff.
First, the conference. With a win over TCU and an Oklahoma win over Baylor, K-State would all but clinch at least a share of the Big 12 title. But if TCU and Baylor win Saturday, there would be three Big 12 teams with a single loss with three games remaining.
Now, the playoff. TCU is no. 6 and K-State is no. 7 in this week's college football playoff poll. Neither team truly controls its own destiny, but both have a very good chance of making the playoff by winning out. The loser of this game will be effectively eliminated from playoff contention.
That's a long way of saying that Saturday's game is important.
Players to Watch
Passing: Jake Waters, 146-224-3, 1,878 yards, 65.2%, 8.4 yards/attempt, 11 TDs, 134.8 yards/game
Rushing: Charles Jones, 92 carries, 431 yards, 4.7 yards/carry, 11 TDs, 53.9 yards/game
Receiving: Tyler Lockett, 49 receptions, 682 yards, 13.9 yards/reception, 5 TDs, 85.2 yards/game
Passing: Trevone Boykin, 180-316-4, 2,472 yards, 57.0%, 7.8 yards/attempt, 22 TDs, 309.0 yards/game
Rushing: B.J. Catalon, 98 carries, 493 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 10 TDs, 61.6 yards/game
Receiving: Josh Doctson, 38 receptions, 602 yards, 15.8 yards/reception, 7 TDs, 75.2 yards/game
Boykin's numbers were a little surprising given TCU's overall output. They're good numbers, and a vast improvement for him, but 57.0% completion percentage and 7.8 yards/attempt are less than I'd expected. As you'll see below, TCU is very much an all-or-nothing offense.
Catalon took a big hit late against West Virginia and is questionable for this week's game. If he can't go, Aaron Green will be a more than capable replacement in the running game.
Frog fans will probably remember Tyler Lockett well, as they last saw him leaving NFL cornerback Jason Verrett in the dust on one of the best stop-and-go routes I've ever seen. Against TCU's aggressive defense, I would expect K-State to lean as heavily as possible on Charles Jones in the running game. Jones is more decisive and more explosive than DeMarcus Robinson.
K-State Advanced Stats
Success Rate: 47.1% (23rd)
Rushing S&P: 44th
Passing S&P: 34th
Standard Downs: 48th
Passing Downs: 31st
Drive Rating: 25th
Success Rate: 42.2% (76th)
Rushing S&P: 11th
Passing S&P: 32nd
Standard Downs: 33rd
Passing Downs: 10th
Texas Christian Advanced Stats
Success Rate: 45.0% (41st)
Rushing S&P: 4th
Passing S&P: 33rd
Standard Downs: 29th
Passing Downs: 10th
Drive Rating: 15th
Success Rate: 36.0% (26th)
Rushing S&P: 18th
Passing S&P: 37th
Standard Downs: 36th
Passing Downs: 16th
Beyond the obvious conference and national factors, this is a fascinating matchup.
Both teams are impossible to kill. K-State is 31st on Passing Downs, TCU is 10th. Forcing second- or third-and-long is no guarantee of success for either defense. Each stop will be well-earned in this one. K-State's defense is better on Passing Downs than is TCU's defense. The Wildcats will need that edge to get Boykin and company off the field.
Then you have the TCU offense, which lives and dies by the big play. TCU's just OK at staying on schedule, but elite at hitting big plays. That offense is facing a K-State defense that doesn't really care if you stay on schedule until you get to the red zone, but is nearly impossible to break a big play against.
Did you need another strength-on-strength matchup to watch? TCU is 4th nationally in Offensive Rushing S&P+, while K-State is 11th nationally in Defensive Rushing S&P+.
Keep an eye also on whether K-State can create any big plays. After the Oklahoma State game, Jake Waters told me that TCU is so sound defensively that you have to take big advantage of the few opportunities they give you. The Frogs are very aggressive, but they can be had for big plays (90th nationally in IsoPPP). If Lockett can beat the TCU secondary, or the Frogs forget about Curry Sexton, the Wildcats could create a long play for a score that turns the game.
Both teams will probably be able to move the ball somewhat between the 30s, but points will be at a premium in this one. Earlier this year, K-State eked out a 31-30 win over Oklahoma, and TCU hit a last-second field goal to beat West Virginia by the same tally last week. This weekend's game will very likely be somewhere in that same range.
K-State 30, Texas Christian 27