Memo to ESPN College GameDay: You might want to think about adjusting your travel schedule, if you haven't already, and plan to be in Manhattan, Kan., a week from Saturday, where an unexpected and probably unbeaten Kansas State will be taking on the big, bad Sooners of Oklahoma in what could very well be a trap game in the Sooners' bid to become part of a fifth national championship game under coach Bob Stoops.
Eight weeks ago, no one - and I mean no one, including the most loyal among K-State fans - anticipated that Oklahoma vs. Kansas State would mean as much as it obviously appears now. Both teams are expected to win rather handily this weekend (Kansas State over lowly Sunflower rival Kansas and Oklahoma at home over Texas Tech), which sets up a perfect storm the week after in Manhattan. A capacity homecoming crowd is expected at the stadium bearing coach Bill Snyder's name, which gives the Wildcats have a real good shot at gunning down powerful Oklahoma away from Norman, where the Sooners are practically unbeatable.
As good as the Sooners have been since Stoops became the head coach 13 seasons ago (a national title, four BCS national championship games and six Big 12 crowns), their greatest vulnerability throughout has been winning on the road. The Sooners are 73-2 at home under Stoops, but only 34-16 in road games. Oklahoma is 6-3 in the Big 12 era against Kansas State and 3-1 in Manhattan. A Stoops-coached Sooner team has lost to the Wildcats only once, but that was an unforgettable shellacking of No. 1 Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game.
The deciding factor in what over the last several weeks has become a highly anticipated match-up may well be what happens in the trenches, specifically Kansas State offensive line vs, OU's defensive push. The Wildcat offensive front has done an excellent job this season creating the gaps and time for quarterback Collin Klein to make plays and execute Kansas State's run-oriented, ball-control offense. Conversely, if the Kansas State defensive front is unable to put pressure on Sooner quarterback Landry Jones, allowing him time to set up and find one of the country's most talented crop of receivers, the result could be more like the outcome expected in this game coming into the season.
The one thing you can count on from this Kansas State team, as from any team coached by Bill Snyder, is that the Cats will play fundamentally sound and disciplined football, and they will be especially good on special teams. Kansas State does not beat itself, and that is primarily why good teams like Miami (Fla.) and Missouri did not have the success they had hoped for in earlier against the Wildcats. This will make the turnover factor and penalties another key part of next Saturday's OU-Kansas State game.
Oklahoma isn't the only big test Snyder's squad will have in the immediate weeks ahead, but it certainly would be their biggest win of the year and unquestionably validate their surprisingly high national ranking. After the Sooners, Kansas State goes to Oklahoma State, followed by a home date with Texas A&M and then to Austin to take on a much-improved Texas team. If the cats were to get through the next four games still unbeaten, they will take home the conference crown and deserve to play for the national championship. An extremely tall order and way premature at this point, but worth pondering, anyway.
As for Oklahoma, a win at Kansas State would pretty well clear the Sooners' path to their final regular-season game, a highly anticipated Bedlam Series battle with in-state archrival Oklahoma State in what many believe will be for the conference championship. The game was even moved to Dec. 3, championship weekend across the country, to give it the same visibility as what previously was the Big 12 Championship.
.But let's not get ahead of ourselves, there is still lots of football to be played in the Big 12 between now and the first weekend in December. Fast reversing back to the upcoming game between Oklahoma and Kansas State, Oklahoma clearly is the more talented and deeper team, but that really won't matter. As we all know, the best team doesn't always win. The team that will win is the one that plays the best that day.
With that in mind, be sure to choose carefully and wisely in making your pick.