PREVIEW: K-State opens Big 12 play as ranked underdogs

Sophomore Felix Anudike-Uzomah reaches for the Southern Illinois quarterback during the Sept. 11 game. (Archive photo by Madison Riebel | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team closed out non-conference play on Sept. 18 with a 38-17 victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack, catapulting the Wildcats into the AP Top 25 rankings. The Wildcats (3-0) now begin Big 12 conference play, taking on the Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0) at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Despite being ranked No. 25 in the most recent AP Poll, K-State is going into the game as underdogs according to Vegas oddsmakers, with the unranked Cowboys the six-point favorite as of Monday. While it isn’t unusual to pick up points when you have home-field advantage, it is strange to see an unranked team favored by a whole touchdown over a ranked opponent.

Regardless, head coach Chris Klieman isn’t going into this week worried about keeping the score within six points. His focus is winning the game.

“I’m glad we’re going into this game 3-0 but we need to play better and I think we can,” Klieman said during the “Chris Klieman Show” on Monday. “Everybody can beat everybody on any given Saturday. You have to come prepared every day.”

Perhaps what was most impressive in the win against Nevada was how well the defense played against Wolf Pack potential number one draft pick Carson Strong. While Strong still picked up 262 yards at a 27/40 clip, the Wildcat defense kept the high-strung offense off the board when it mattered — the fourth quarter.

K-State was excited about the incoming transfers in the secondary, but I’m not sure people expected them to play this well. This bodes well for the confidence of Wildcat fans going into a conference schedule known for teams with a persistent scoring attack.

With Oklahoma State’s scoring differential totaling 13 points after three wins, the Cowboys haven’t exactly been running away with games. That said, the Cowboys have experience with staying composed in late-game situations, so the Wildcats will need to play a strong four quarters to win this game.

The big question concerning Saturday’s game is the availability of super-senior star quarterback Skylar Thompson. No word is out yet on Thompson’s injury, but many wonder if he will be back the week before K-State welcomes No. 4 Oklahoma to town.

Keep off the panic button

K-State starts Big 12 play with perhaps the toughest three-game start in the conference, playing against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. It is important for the Wildcats not to panic if these upcoming games don’t go as planned, as there is still a long season ahead.

Coming out of this stretch, 1-2 or 0-3 shouldn’t make K-State fans reach for the panic button quite yet. Going 2-1 or 3-0 should get everyone’s blood pumping for a possible conference championship, but a 1-2 record could keep the team in the running through the end of the season.

Passing game

Sophomore quarterback Will Howard impressed against Nevada … on the ground. With the help of running backs Deuce Vaughn and Joe Ervin, the Wildcats combined for 269 rushing yards, which helped Howard get a couple of ground scores.

The concern about this is when the team gets in late-game situations in Big 12 play.

Over half of Howard’s 123 passing yards came on a Daniel Imatorbhebhe 68-yard touchdown reception on the second play of the game. Though efficient with a 70 percent completion rate, there will be conference games that can’t be won with only 10 pass attempts.

Another thing to watch is if sophomore quarterback Jaren Lewis — who played the second quarter against Nevada — will see the field again. With how strong Howard played on the ground, he will likely see most of the snaps in a conference game.

A true away game

K-State opened the year at a neutral-site location in Arlington, Texas, against Stanford with a majority purple crowd. The next two games were home games against non-Power Five opponents with a heavy home-field advantage.

Heading to Oklahoma State, it will be interesting to see how the players react to a predominantly orange-and-black crowd cheering against them. Players and coaches often share how much the fans at Bill Snyder Family Stadium get them pumped up. Hopefully, they can drown out the Cowboy energy on Saturday.

The curse of the rankings

In the past two seasons under head coach Chris Klieman, the Wildcats are 0-3 in games coming in as a ranked team — excluding games against Kansas. Against a good Oklahoma State team this weekend, can K-State break that streak?

Perhaps it’s scheduling or paying too much attention to the media, maybe even something that none of us know. Over the past two seasons, however, it seems as if K-State plays like a conference champion up until they start getting recognition from the rankings voters.

Daniel Green

With defensive playmakers all over the field in players like Timmy Horne and Jahron McPherson — just two of the many deserving of recognition — it seems we are overlooking the brilliance of how well junior linebacker Daniel Green has played this season.

The team’s leading defensive playmaker has 22 total tackles through 2.5 games. Green had to sit out of the first half against Southern Illinois after a controversial targeting ejection late in the game against Stanford. His 17 solo tackles on the season tie him for 17th in the nation, and it seems like Green has been all over the field for the Wildcats.

It will be interesting to see if Green can maintain an all-conference playing level heading into conference play.

K-State takes on Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and can be watched live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. Watch out for the Collegian’s “Know Your Opponent” piece for a more in-depth review of the Cowboys’ team, and check in after the game for recap and analysis.