Year two under Chris Klieman was always going to be a “down” year for the program, but I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of K-State fans were more than a little concerned with how this season would ultimately turn out after a seemingly disastrous loss to Arkansas State on September 12th. But in a shocking turn of events, the ‘cats overcame a three TD deficit to beat then-#3 Oklahoma and followed it up with two tough, grind-it-out wins over Texas Tech and TCU (though the loss of Skylar Thompson for the rest of the year looms large). It feels a bit like this team is playing with house money yet still finds itself tied for first in the league – so why not start looking ahead at the schedule a bit?
The Jayhawks are the worst power conference program in the country and I don’t believe it’s even a competition. They lost by three TDs to West Virginia this past weekend in a game that didn’t feel remotely that close (and featured somewhere in the neighborhood of a D+ outing collectively from the Mountaineers). They’re bad across the board, with a horrible run defense (good for KSU) and an incredibly anemic offense (even better for KSU). Their only real threat now that Pooka Williams has opted out is their other tailback, Velton Gardner. It’s easy to take bad opponents for granted but I really don’t see an avenue to a Kansas win.
Chance of winning: 95%
At West Virginia
This is setting up to be a very tricky contest. Neal Brown is still searching for his first win over a ranked opponent in Morgantown so I’m sure he’ll have no problem getting his team up for the ‘cats (who’ve had all sorts of trouble with the Mountaineers of late, having not beaten them since 2015). The ‘eers are currently first nationally in total defense and 17th in defensive EPA/play. Now that could be a little misleading since they have yet to play a truly explosive offense (and are fresh off bullying KU). But it is still concerning, especially with their ferocious pass rush (spearheaded by the Stills brothers). The good news is their O has been spotty at best (they’re currently 73rd out of 76 in offensive EPA/play) but they do have a load at RB in Leddie Brown. If K-State can contain him and force Jarret Doege to throw the ball frequently – where he’s prone to make mistakes – they’ll be in good shape. Points will be at a premium but as long as the KSU offense can be semi-productive (particularly in the RedZone) without turning it over, it should be a win for the purple.
Chance of winning: 65%Embed from Getty Images
This is the game that could very likely either make or break K-State’s season. The Cowboys have a good shot to be undefeated in league play coming into this game (same as KSU) and the winner would likely be in the driver’s seat for a slot in Dallas. OSU is loaded on offense (with the likes of Tylan Wallace, Chuba Hubbard and a healthy Spencer Sanders) but has sputtered a bit since Sanders went down with an injury in week one against Tulsa. Still, it’ll be a tall task defensively, and pressuring/containing Sanders should be at the top of the to-do list. On the other side, the Cowboys have been salty (4th in EPA/play, 3rd in EPA/rush) but also haven’t played a top-50 offense thus far. It’s going to take a very good performance on both sides of the ball to come out with a victory, and I’d be even more bullish on their chances with a full stadium of fans and Skylar Thompson under center. Alas…last season still sticks in my mind (where OSU mostly had their way offensively and was the worst collective outing in Klieman’s first year). This is a much different Wildcat team than that one and OSU turnovers could swing things, but I still think the Cowboys are just a little too much at the end of the day.
Chance of winning: 45%
At Iowa State
The Cyclones are a better team than K-State. They should beat K-State, especially in Ames. And yet, this game feels like a legit toss-up to me 1) because of the lopsided recent Farmageddon history and 2) KSU will be fresh off a bye week after playing Ok State. ISU got blown out by Louisiana to open the year but have since rebounded and scored 31+ in every contest (and won them all). They have a top ~15 rushing offense (that’s led by former Wichita resident Breece Hall) and while Brock Purdy has been a little up and down in the passing game, he’s been markedly better since the return of TE Charlie Kolar (12 catches in three games). Their defense is a little hard to get a read on since they’ve played pretty potent offenses but I tend to think they’re still awfully good. However, K-State should have a massive advantage in special teams. Matt Campbell squads have historically had trouble in that area of the game and it’s continued again this year – they gave up a KO return TD and punt return TD in their opener against UL and then had a FG blocked and returned for a TD by Texas Tech. KSU, on the other hand, has been pretty stellar on ST (blocking a punt in every game so far). That combined with Purdy’s penchant for critical turnovers is what should keep the purple hanging around until the very end.
Chance of winning: 50%Embed from Getty Images
Baylor has had a helluva time trying to actually play games this fall due to COVID testing (they’ve only managed to play KU and WV to this point), so it’s hard to get a feel for where they’re at in pretty much all facets. They lost their coaching staff and almost all of their defense from a year ago but seem to have played alright on that side of the ball, thanks in large part to new defensive-minded HC Dave Aranda. Their offense has been a different story, as they tout one of the worst success rates in college football. Charlie Brewer is starting to show the cumulative wear and tear on his body and the Bears have yet to find another consistent option to go with the ball. I tend to think this game looks similar to the one in Morgantown, with both teams duking it out and struggling to score points – but I think the ‘cats make enough plays to squeeze out a victory.
Chance of winning: 65%
I’m curious to see whether or not Tom Herman is still on the sidelines for this game. I’m *pretty sure* he will be, but if the ‘horns are still riding the struggle bus as hard as they have been I could see an avenue where he’s fired down the stretch. Either way, UT will still have Sam Ehlinger leading them offensively, where they’ve been very predictable but still fairly productive despite a complete lack of a ground game. Defensively, they’ve been underwhelming (despite what the numbers might say) and have been prone to surrendering big plays. They’ll have the talent advantage (as they almost always do) but they’re not the Texas of old – or even the one picked to contend for the conference crown in the preseason. I see K-State busting off a few big, timely plays offensively and doing just enough on the other side to stifle Ehlinger and company to close out the regular season on a really high note.
Chance of winning: 60%
PredictionEmbed from Getty Images
To me, the absolute ceiling for this group is going 5-1, which equates to 8-1 and a trip to Dallas. Even with all sorts of luck, I don’t think they can go 3-0 vs OSU/ISU/UT. I lean more toward 1-2, with losses to OSU and ISU. That leaves KU/WV/Baylor, which they should finish at least 2-1 against and likely should be 3-0. I think they go 2-1 with a letdown loss to either Baylor or WV (couldn’t say for sure which one is more likely but going to Waco right after Ames isn’t ideal). So my prediction is a 6-3 finish, good for fourth place and narrowly missing out on the league championship game.
Couldn’t be any more happy to be wrong, if it comes to pass. Go Cats.