On a cold and damp afternoon in Lawrence, Kansas, the Kansas State Wildcats (5-6, 2-6 Big 12) may have managed to stumble into a bowl game with a resounding 45-14 win over the rival Kansas Jayhawks, who completed a winless 2015 with the loss.
There are only 75 teams with the required six wins to achieve automatic bowl eligibility. There are only three 5-6 teams left, with K-State being one. Even if South Alabama upsets Appalachian State and Georgia State upsets Georgia Southern next week, there would still be only 77 bowl-eligible teams to fill 80 spots. Of the 5-7 teams, only Nebraska has a higher APR than the Wildcats, and only Missouri has the same APR. It would seem absolutely non-sensical for K-State, having one of the three best APRs among 5-7 teams, to be left out with three open slots. And there will probably be four or five.
Of course, beating West Virginia would (a) be preferable and (b) solve K-State's problem entirely.
Nothing is certain, because the NCAA has still not yet revealed exactly how the APR selection process will work. But the most logical and sensible solution is that with three (or four or five) available slots, the NCAA would declare the three (or four or five) 5-7 teams with the best APRs eligible. That would then enable K-State to be selected by the next bowl in the Big 12's pecking order, which would be the Cactus (or the Liberty, if three Big 12 teams earn New Year's Six bids).
But that's for next week. There was a game today, and it was glorious catharsis for a battered and exhausted Wildcat squad (and fanbase). The Wildcats raced to a 28-7 first quarter lead and never looked back.
If Morgan Burns had played ten games this season like he played today, he'd be a Heisman candidate. The senior cornerback had an interception. He recovered a bad snap on KU's first punt attempt, setting up the first Wildcat touchdown. On KU's next punt attempt, he recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown after Sam Sizelove blocked the kick. On KU's third punt attempt, he came so close to blocking the punt that he caused a shank. He was excellent in pass coverage throughout he day, and he easily earns our Star of the Game recognition... and probably a third consecutive Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week nod.
As one can probably surmise, special teams and defensive players were a large part of the Wildcat victory. Indeed, K-State only outgained Kansas 363-328. The Wildcats only had 22 first downs to KU's 17. The Jayhawks were better at third-down conversions, 8-17 to 5-12. The difference today was mistakes and execution. K-State was only penalized once, a false start penalty on Luke Hayes which will almost certainly result in some form of punishment -- humorous or otherwise. Kansas was penalized six times for 48 yards, one a targeting penalty on Derrick Neal after nailing Joe Hubener in the head with his shoulder.
Hubener was 10 of 17 for 133 yards, a third of that coming on a 44-yard reception by fullback Winston Dimel. Dimel was a busy boy; in addition to that play, on which he was brought down at the one yard line, Dimel had five carries for 25 yards and two touchdowns. Glenn Gronkowski had a pair of carries for 10 yards and a score, as well as a single reception for 31 yards. The fullbacks combined for 75 yards on two catches.
Hubener also ran 17 times for 88 yards and a score, while Charles Jones added 70 yards on 13 carries. In all, the Wildcats managed 226 yards on the ground, gaining 4.6 yards per attempt.
Zach Davidson made an appearance, finishing the game and missing on one attempt during K-State's final drive. Matt McCrane also made his return, flawless on six extra points and a 33-yard field goal.
For the Jayhawks, Freshman Ryan Willis was 19 of 35 for 215 yards, with two touchdowns and the Burns interception. Taylor Cox had 47 yards on 11 carries, and De'Andre Mann had 41 on 6.
We're bypassing the usual "five things" breakdown tonight, because there's really not much to be learned here. Even with the substantive victory, the usual questions still remain. The usual suspects still performed. And the usual concerns are still valid. But for now, a win over the Jayhawks will do just fine... and the possibility that K-State has already secured a bowl game -- and, more importantly, the extra four weeks of practice -- is just gravy.