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Big 12 pick of the week: Kansas State shooting for win No. 2 over State of Oklahoma

As the season counts down, Kansas State can move another step closer to a Big 12 championship and a potential ticket to play in the BCS National Championship.

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Jamie Squire

Kansas State is at home in Manhattan again this weekend where the Wildcats, this season's No, 1 team in the Big 12, will entertain last year's top team, the defending-champion Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The Wildcats are unbeaten at 8-0 overall and own a perfect 5-0 mark more than halfway through the Big 12 season. This is just the third time under head coach Bill Snyder that Kansas State has been unbeaten and untied this late in the season and the first time since 1999. The Wildcats' No. 2 BCS ranking is also the highest in school history.

This Kansas State team is on a collective mission. And coach Snyder's team is going about business in a model way: with faultless execution and disciplined, opportunistic defensive play. With every week and every Kansas State victory, the Wildcats are edging closer and more realistically to the ultimate prize: the chance to play for the national championship. Something that would have been unfathomable 25 years ago, when the "little engine that couldn't" from the Little Apple was considered the worst team in college football.

This week's challenger is last year's champion, and Wildcat senior quarterback and this year's Heisman Trophy front-runner, Collin Klein, remembers well how close he and his teammates came a season ago to knocking off then-undefeated Oklahoma State at their place in a thrilling game that came down to the final play.

Saturday's game is important to both teams. Even though Kansas State still has four games remaining on the schedule, a win over Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1), which Kansas State has not beaten since 2006, would remove the last major obstacle standing between the Cats and their second Big 12 championship and first since 2003. Once again, Kansas State finds itself in the position of taking on one of the country's most potent offenses, which seems to be an every-week occurrence in offensive-centered Big 12.

What the Wildcats have, though, which is in perilously short supply in the Big 12 Conference, is a stout defense that has proven it is more than equal to the task presented by the conference's high-scoring, big-play offensive machines that are capable of going the distance in a single play. Kansas State is one of only five teams in the country that has not given up more than 24 points to any opponent this season. And before giving up 24 points in last weekend's win over Texas Tech (half of them coming very late when the game had long been decided) that number would have been 21.

With only one conference loss (to Texas in a game that the Cowboys easily could have won), Oklahoma State cannot afford a second loss and remain in contention to defend its league crown. Kansas State, on the other hand, has only away games at TCU and Baylor and its home finale against Texas left on the schedule, all games in which the Wildcats should be favored.

Oklahoma State not only comes into the game with the No. 1 offense in the conference, averaging 586 yards a game, mostly through the air, but with the most explosive offense in the country behind two freshman quarterbacks, starter Wes Lunt and his highly capable backup, J.W. Walsh. Kansas State will counter with the conference's fourth-best overall defense (second against the run and seventh defending the pass).

Kansas State leads the Big 12 in both scoring defense and is virtually tied with Oklahoma State on the offensive side of the ledger, both putting up an average of 44 points a game. The two teams stand one-two in the conference in rushing. The Cowboys, though, own a decided edge when both teams throw the football.

Capitalizing on the other team's mistakes has been a critical factor in Kansas State's success this season. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 with a plus-15 turnover margin, including 10 fumble recoveries, and have scored 90 points off of turnovers forced by their aggressive defensive play.

Another sellout crowd of 50,000-plus is expected at Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the 7 p.m. kickoff, which will be televised in primetime to a national audience on ABC.

Three keys to the game

  • Oklahoma State gives up a lot of points (59 to Arizona and 41 to Texas, both games the Cowboys lost). Chances are, the Cowboys are not going to reach their 44-point scoring average against K-State. If the OSU defense can't get stops on the K-State offense, the Cowboys won't be able to score enough points to win the game.
  • Oklahoma State's freshmen quarterbacks are going to face a lot of pressure from the Kansas State front seven. If they aren't careful with the football (combined they've thrown eight interceptions this year), the K-State defense will make them pay dearly. One more thing: Kansas State leads the Big 12 in sacks and Oklahoma State is the least-sacked team in the conference. Something is bound to give here.
  • Special teams and field position can be a big factor in big games like this one. A key matchup to watch for will be Kansas State league-leading punt return team, featuring the speedy Tyler Lockett as the deep man, against the conference's best punter, OSU Quinn Sharp.

Kansas State will win this game. It will be close for a while, but the Wildcats are a more experienced team with a senior leader at quarterback. The Wildcats will break open a fairly close game midway through the third quarter and pull away from there.

Game prediction: Kansas State 45, Oklahoma State 28

Other Big 12 Games This Weekend (Week 10)

(Projected winner in bold face)

Kansas @ Baylor

Oklahoma @ Iowa State

TCU @ West Virginia

Texas @ Texas Tech

Last week: 3-2

For the season: 43-11 (.796)

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