Hello, Baylor, our new friends. We meet again.
For the third straight season, K-State and Baylor meet as Big 12 and - at least in Baylor's case - national title contenders*. Go tell a Texas or Oklahoma fan that in 2008 and call an ambulance before they asphyxiate while laughing.
*K-State could theoretically make the playoff, but the odds are somewhere around "sooo you're sayin' there's a chance?"
The Wildcats and Bears are polar opposites in just about every way. K-State is the plodding, disciplined, businesslike Great Plains oddity, while Baylor has co-opted the Texas swagger with its fast-paced, big-play offense and aggressive defense. But both teams stand 7-1 and, pending the outcome of Texas Christian's game against Iowa State, are probably playing for a share of the Big 12 crown.
Players to Watch
Passing: Jake Waters, 209-322-5, 64.9%, 2,863 yards, 8.9 yards/attempt, 18 TDs, 260.3 yards/game
Rushing: Charles Jones, 111 carries, 476 yards, 4.3 yards/carry, 12 TDs, 43.3 yards/game
Receiving: Tyler Lockett, 79 receptions, 1,193 yards, 15.1 yards/reception, 8 TDs, 108.5 yards/game
Passing: Bryce Petty, 200-337-5, 59.3%, 2,893 yards, 8.6 yards/attempt, 25 TDs, 289.3 yards/game
Rushing: Shock Linwood, 222 carries, 1,135 yards, 5.1 yards/carry, 15 TDs, 103.2 yards/game
Receiving: Corey Coleman, 53 receptions, 928 yards, 17.5 yards/reception, 10 TDs, 116.0 yards/game
How about that Jake Waters, huh? Passing and rushing combined, he's having arguably a better year than Bryce Petty.
Coleman leads the way for Baylor pass catchers, but the Bears have a three-headed monster in Coleman, KD Cannon (47 receptions, 800 yards, 6 TDs) and Antwan Goodley (42 receptions, 621 yards, 5 TDs). You'll remember Goodley from last year, and his stiff-arm in the open field may still give Randall Evans nightmares.
K-State's offense revolves around Waters-to-Lockett, with a dash of Curry Sexton thrown in for flavor. None of the Wildcats running backs has been consistently effective, other than Jones running the wildcat formation in goal-line situations.
Waters has been mostly a non-factor running the ball since the Oklahoma game. Keep an eye on whether we run any QB leads with him, something we mostly haven't seen since October. Waters was effective running the ball last year against Baylor - eight non-sack carries for 69 yards (8.6 yards/carry) - and Daniel Sams gashed the Bears for 199 yards on 30 carries. If he's able, now is the time to unleash Waters on the ground.
Keep in mind also that neither Tyler Lockett nor Tramaine Thompson played last year against Baylor. Sams was the offense. If Waters can replicate even a poor-man's version of that rushing performance, this game could get interesting in a hurry with Lockett and Sexton consequently finding room in the secondary.
Play-for-play and drive-for-drive, Baylor has been the better team this season. Not so much better that it's inconceivable K-State could win, like it was last year, but better.
K-State offense vs. Baylor defense
Baylor is the anti-K-State on defense, a fast, aggressive unit that will make big plays and give them up. The Bears rank 14th nationally in Success Rate and 77th in IsoPPP. Big plays are possible, but sustained drives are unlikely.
For its part, the Wildcat offense has quietly been relatively effective. K-State is now among the top quartile in Success Rate and the top third of the country in IsoPPP. This adds a different dimension for an offense that was almost all about grinding out long drives against Baylor last year. But it will still require establishing some semblance of a ground game, and that will start with Waters.
Baylor is pretty good against both the run and the pass on defense. K-State is better passing the ball, and is hard to get off the field even in third and long(ish). Sorry for repeating myself, but whether K-State can stay in this game will come down to whether it can run the ball semi-effectively.
Also, as we saw last year, just creating scoring opportunities against Baylor isn't enough. The Bears held K-State on downs on K-State's first drive into the red zone last year, and forced K-State to settle for three field goal attempts by Jack Cantele (two made, one missed). This year the Bears are elite in this area, ranking third nationally in Drive Rating.
So no big deal, K-State. Run the ball effectively, hit some big plays, and finish drives when you get there. All against a defense that's at least pretty good against all those things.
K-State defense vs. Baylor offense
Get ready for Baylor to move the ball. That much is a given. K-State will likely employ the same strategy we saw last year, doing everything possible to take away Baylor's running game and forcing Petty to complete passes consistently through the smallest windows we can muster.
Two bits of good news, there. Shock Linwood is a good running back, but he's not Lache Seastrunk. Baylor was 19th in Rushing S&P and second in Passing S&P last year; both numbers are lower this year. And Petty completed a slightly higher percentage of his passes last year. It's marginal, but there are reasons for hope.
Also, K-State is once again an elite team at preventing big plays, ranking eighth in IsoPPP. Of course, Baylor's pretty awesome at generating big plays, at 13th in the same metric. This is crucial, because last year the Bears scored on passing plays of 92, 73 and 54 yards, and two of those came off play-action. If K-State flips either of those from "huge scoring play" to "successful gain for a first down," they take points off the board and give themselves another set of downs to make a stop.
But now a big cause for concern. K-State usually bends its way down the field and makes its stand as the field shrinks or the opponent makes a mistake. But Baylor may not be fazed by this approach, as the Bears are 11th in Drive Rating. They can finish drives.
These Bears are very good, even if they're not quite last year's juggernaut.
If K-State is going to win this game, it will be a Snyderball tour de force. This game will be unlike almost any other game Baylor has played this season. K-State is 106th in Adjusted Pace this year, while the Bears play at the fastest pace in college football.
The formula is pretty simple for the Wildcats. Slow the game down to limit Baylor's opportunities. Prevent big plays and take advantage of mistakes when (if) they come your way. Finish your drives in the end zone when scoring opportunities arise. Don't beat yourself with turnovers and penalties. Make a big play on special teams.
K-State took a lead into the fourth quarter last year at home, in a game where they forced three fumbles but only recovered one, and only had eight fewer penalty yards than the Bears. They have Lockett available this year to help stretch the field, but no Sams to run it. Baylor's defensive line is better, but hasn't been good the last couple weeks.
Even with the game on the road, I feel much better about this matchup than I did last year. K-State comes agonizingly close to another Big 12 title, but falls just short in Waco.
Baylor 38, K-State 34