The fun really begins this week in Big 12 football. Some think of this time as the real season in college football. For the most part, the nonconference portion of the schedule for teams in the major conferences like the Big 12 is made up of home games that pay out big dollars to smaller schools and in turn fatten the overall records of the BCS schools and allow them to work 0ut the kinks before the start of the much more challenging and meaningful conference season.
Although cream-puff games early in the schedule are not an absolute – for example, TCU taking on then 13th-ranked LSU on opening weekend, Oklahoma State squaring off with dangerous Mississippi State on the same weekend and Oklahoma traveling to South Bend to do battle with nationally-ranked Notre Dame – there typically aren’t a lot of meaningful or competitive games during the first several weeks of the college season.
But now that we are fully engaged in conference play across the country, this is when things start to get really interesting.
A full slate of conference-only action is in store for Big 12 fans this week for the first time this season. All 10 teams are in action, and it all gets started on Thursday (which, because of TV, is a regular feature in the Big 12 this season) with Iowa State (1-2) hosting enigmatic Texas (2-2, 1-0) under the lights.. Other conference games on the Week 6 schedule include Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 at Kansas (2-1), TCU (2-2, 0-1) at Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) and West Virginia (3-2, 1-1), an upset winner over Oklahoma State last Saturday, visiting Baylor (3-0).
Our spotlight game in the Big 12 this week, though, is Kansas State (2-2, 0-1) at No. 21 Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1). It is still relatively early in the season, and very early insofar as the conference race is concerned, but this matchup of the last two conference champions could have a big impact on how things ultimately turn out. Kansas State is 2-4 against Oklahoma State since 2003, and and the Cowboys are 19-8 all-time when playing the Wildcats in Stillwater. The Cowboys also lead the all-time series 36-23.
The Wildcats can expect to face an angry OSU squad still upset over last weekend’s stunning loss at West Virginia – as if the Cowboys needed any extra motivation with the defending conference champion as its opponent on Saturday.
“They will be angry,” said K-State head coach Bill Snyder at his weekly press conference this week. “I think it is that emotion when you lose a ballgame. The real competitive people get very upset about it and anger can be channeled in the right direction to help perform. I guess it could work both ways.
The offenses of both teams are comparable through four games this season. The two starting quarterbacks, Jake Waters of Kansas State and J.W. Walsh of Oklahoma State, are averaging 237 and 241 passing yards per game, respectively, and the average rushing yardage is even closer: 159.8 for Oklahoma State and 158.5 for Kansas State.
Kansas State, which in recent years has produced the biggest part of its offensive yardage on the ground, has become much more balanced this year and, with a passing quarterback in Waters, is looking to pass the ball more and take advantage of the open-field speed of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in stopping the run, but the Cowboys are at the bottom of the league in pass defense. West Virginia took advantage of that disparity last weekend, throwing for 320 yards against the OSU linebackers and secondary.
Kansas State has had an extra week of practice to prepare for Oklahoma State, which runs the hurry-up offense as well and as much as any team in the conference. Snyder believes they (OSU) are faster than Texas, which gave the Wildcats trouble in their loss to the Longhorns two weeks ago. “This will be the fastest team that we have faced thus far this season,” Snyder said. “It will get even faster next week (against Baylor).”
Three Things To Watch For In This Game
- Kansas State has not shown so far this season that it can run the ball with any consistency. Senior running back John Hubert is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but only 59 yards per game. Despite the fact that Oklahoma State is last in the conference in defending the pass, the Wildcats can’t afford to become one-dimensional on offense and allow OSU to sit on the passing game.
- When Kansas State has had its best seasons, the Wildcats have been at the top of the league or near it in turnover margin. Historically, Bill Snyder-coached teams do not beat themselves, but they have been quick to force an opponent’s mistakes and turn those mistakes against them. That hasn’t been the case this year. The Wildcats have already commtted nine turnovers through four games and have only forced four, for a minus-five turnover margin. They committed only 12 turnover total all last season.
- Third-down conversions: Picking up first downs and sustaining drives is a key to a ball-control offensive plan like Kansas State likes to run. The Wildcats are near the top of the league again this season in third-down conversions. Oklahoma State, however, is among the best in the conference in blowing up third-down conversion attempts. Something has to give here.
Statistically, these two teams are fairly well matched, but Oklahoma State has a big edge in talent, man for man, and they are playing at home with a chip on their shoulder. In the end, that will be too much of an obstacle for Kansas State to overcome. The Wildcats will go 0-2 to start league play for the first time since 2004. And next weekend, Baylor comes calling.
Game prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Kansas State 21
Other Big 12 Picks in Week 6
Texas 31 @ Iowa State 21
Texas Tech 42 @ Kansas 17
TCU 17 @ Oklahoma 28
West Virginia 21 @ Baylor 48
Last week: 2-2
For the season: 26-8 (.765)