I have to admit, until last weekend, I had not been a believer in Kansas State. I felt that the close call the Cats received in their home opener against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky was indicative of the struggle they could expect going on the road in the nonconference to face Miami and against tough league competition in the Big 12.
I do not believe that Kansas State will go undefeated for the entire season. I do think, however, that K-State coach Bill Snyder, the dean of Big 12 coaches, has his team playing with a lot of grit and determination and at a high level. They don't have the talent that most of the other conference teams have, yet the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0) are playing as well as any Big 12 team right now. They're going to need to summon that same will and effort against pass-crazy, once-beaten Texas Tech, K-State's road opponent this weekend. The Red Raiders are always a tough out at home.
The pollsters have noticed what's been going on in Manhattan this season, as well. K-State broke into the top 25 last week at No. 20. The AP media poll ranks the Wildcats' at No. 17 this week, while USA Today's coaches' poll has the Wildcats' at No, 18.
Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) still throws the ball around the yard a lot and can still score quickly, but make no mistake, this is not the same high-octane, dangerous offense of the Mike Leach era. The masked marauders can still pile up yards, but not at such a grand level as in the past, and they can actually play a little defense now, although not as well as Bill Snyder's troops.
The two key matchups to watch in this game will be Kansas State's running game, led by junior quarterback Colin Klein and lead running back John Hubert, against the Big 12's worst defense against the run and the 115th worst in the country. The Red Raiders are yielding 224 yards a game on the ground. Klein and Hubert are averaging a combined 186 rushing yards a game. Similarly, Texas Tech's pass-oriented attack, ranked sixth in the nation after five games, is expected to go after the K-State linebackers and secondary, which ranks third in the conference and 39th nationally.
Texas Tech has been successful in 54 percent of its third-down conversion opportunities (44 out of 81), while Snyder's defense has had success 71 percent of the time this season stopping its opponents on third down (19 of 64).
The Wildcats have been lethal through the years under Snyder when they hold the lead at halftime. In large part that is due to their ball-control, grind-it-out offense. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 in time of possession, averaging nearly 36 minutes in all of its games.
Count me among the converted. I think Kansas State will score on Texas Tech's offense, but I don't think quarterback Seth Doege and the Red Raiders will have equal success putting up enough points to win against the tough K-State defensive unit.
KANSAS STATE 28, Texas Tech 24
Here are the rest of my Big 12 football picks for the games this week:
OKLAHOMA 52 vs. Kansas 17
This contest has the potential of being a carbon copy of what Kansas (2-3, 0-2) went through last week at Oklahoma State. One of the country's best offensive teams (Oklahoma is sixth in the nation in total offense and third in passing) in a mismatch of potentially horrific proportions. Kansas ranks dead last among FCS (formerly Division I) teams in both scoring (49 points a game) and total defense (556 yards a game). Oklahoma (5-0) is coming off an emotionally charged, Red River Rivalry rout over archrival Texas, though, and despite what the Sooners' press reports would like us to believe, the fact that OU has KU up next on the schedule gives me pause that the Sooners will not take this game too seriously. Plus, the start time isn't till 8:15 p.m., which is an hour or two later than most Central Time Zone games. Not much reason to stay up for this one unless you are an OU fan. The Sooners will score early and they'll score often, and they will leave Lawrence with their USA Today No. 1 ranking intact.
Iowa State 24 @ MISSOURI 41
After a couple of disappointing road losses - one that was expected, the other not - Missouri finds itself finally in a position to register a victory. The Tigers are back home, where they will take on Iowa State, itself a victim of two consecutive losses. On paper, this game looks to be reasonably evenly matched. Both teams are looking for their first conference win. The Cyclones have three wins on the season, one more than Missouri, but out of the Tigers' five games thus far, two have been against nationally ranked teams. MU's Henry Josey continues to lead the conference in rushing, averaging 117 yards a game, and sophomore quarterback James Franklin has lived up to Missouri's reputation for developing strong performers at the QB position. Franklin provides the Tigers with a dual threat, averaging per-game stats of 60 yards running the ball and 240 yards through the air. Gary Pinkel will have his team at home, focused and primed to turn it loose offensively.
OKLAHOMA STATE 38 @ Texas 28
For Texas, this week's encounter with top-10-ranked Oklahoma State is going to be like going from the frying pan into the fire. After getting bombed by archrival Oklahoma, with the third-best offense in the conference, last weekend in the annual Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl, the Longhorns have a week or less to prepare for the Big 12's most prolific offense. Oklahoma State is averaging 51 points and 577 yards of total offense a game. The Longhorns gave up 367 passing yards to OU's Landry Jones, and it's likely to be bombs away again when the Horns face Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and his deep arsenal of pass-receiving weapons. Texas is 105-73-5 in games when both teams are ranked. Texas fell to 21st, from 10th, in this week's USA Today poll. The unbeaten Cowboys (5-0, 2-0)) are ranked seventh in the country in the same poll. The game is in Austin, which will be a small help, but not nearly enough to pull off the upset. This should end the Longhorns' short run in the top 25 and saddle them with a second straight loss to go with four wins.
BAYLOR 41 @ Texas A&M 30
This could be the game of the week in the conference, along with the Oklahoma State-Texas gun fight. Like the game in Austin, Baylor at Texas A&M is a matchup of top 25 teams, both with one loss. The loser of this game, in all likelihood, will fall out of the Big 12 title chase. Texas A&M's defense has disappointed this year. Twice this year, the Aggies (3-2, 1-1) have blown 18-point first-half leads in losing to two other ranked teams (Oklahoma State and Arkansas). With dual-threat Robert Griffin III at the controls in the Baylor backfield, the Bears (4-1, 1-1) have averaged 323 passing yards a game, 14th best in the nation. Bad news for Texas A&M, which is the worst in the country in defending the pass - even worse than Kansas, if you can believe that. The Aggies are giving up an average of 347 yards through the air, which I'm sure has RG3 & Co. licking their chops. A&M held on to pull one off on the road last weekend at Texas Tech. They will be fortunate to even hold a lead this week. Baylor wins, handing A&M its third loss of the season and second at Kyle Field.
Last Week's Picks: 4-1
For the Season: 34-6