After an inauspicious 3-3 start in 2016, K-State finished strong for a 9-4 record, punctuated by a Texas Bowl victory over Texas A&M. That strong finish fuels hopes among Wildcat fans for a run at a Big 12 championship in 2017.
Saturday’s foe is Central Arkansas, an FCS school from the Southland Conference. The Bears finished 2016 with a 10-3 record, good for a second-place conference finish. In the FCS playoffs, the Bears defeated the MVC’s Illinois State before losing to Eastern Washington.
In other words, the Bears aren’t exactly Southeast Missouri State. And they return their starting quarterback and 17 other starters.
Players to Watch
Passing: Jesse Ertz, 152-264-4, 57.6%, 1,755 yards, 6.6 yards/attempt, 9 TDs, 135.0 yards/game
Rushing: Alex Barnes, 56 carries, 442 yards, 7.9 yards/carry, 6 TDs, 40.2 yards/game
Receiving: Byron Pringle, 39 receptions, 631 yards, 16.2 yards/reception, 4 TDs, 48.5 yards/game
Passing: Hayden Hildebrand, 236-391-10, 60.4%, 3,051 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 19 TDs, 234.7 yards/game
Rushing: Carlos Blackman, 137 carries, 616 yards, 4.5 yards/carry, 5 TDs, 47.4 yards/game
Receiving: Roman Gordon, 17 receptions, 312 yards, 18.4 yards/reception, 1 TD, 24.0 yards/game
In some ways, UCA profiles as an air-it-out team, and Hildebrand was a solid quarterback last year. But the Bears attempted runs more than 60 percent of the time. For reference, Texas Tech runs the ball less than 40 percent of the time.
That said, UCA wasn’t especially efficient running the ball, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. That includes sacks, of course, but even their leading running back averaged only 4.5 yards per carry.
In the passing game, UCA lost its top two receivers from last season. Gordon sports a gaudy per-reception average, but that is heavily influenced by an 83-yard touchdown (I assume) reception.
Overall, Central Arkansas scored 33.1 points per game last year to K-State’s 32.2, while giving up 21.7 to K-State’s 22.3.
No advanced stats analysis this week.
Beware the good and confident FCS team with a senior quarterback and a lot of returning starters. That said, beware also the team coached by Bill Snyder with returning experience at quarterback.
And Central Arkansas is good, but isn’t North Dakota State. The Bison were straight-up better in the trenches in 2013 and featured a senior quarterback playing ahead of Carson Wentz, who was the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
By Sagarin, Central Arkansas ranks 133rd, or three spots ahead of the Florida Atlantic team that K-State routed 63-7 in Manhattan last season. A season-opening game likely won’t be that lopsided, but K-State should control this one throughout.
Manhattan Purple 45, Conway Purple 17