Kansas State vs. Texas: 10 Keys to Watch as Big 12 Contenders Meet

Michael WillhoftContributor IIINovember 17, 2011

Kansas State vs. Texas: 10 Keys to Watch as Big 12 Contenders Meet

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    College football tradition will be on display in the Big-12 matchup between the Kansas State Wildcats and the Texas Longhorns this weekend, but the script will be anything but what’s expected.

    Traditional powerhouse Texas has endured a tough season so far—with a mediocre 6-3 overall record to show for it—but will still be favored at home against the visiting Wildcats on Saturday.

    K-State has surprised the college football world so far, starting their season with seven consecutive victories before dropping two of their last three. And while their hopes of going to a BCS bowl might be lost, the Wildcats will be a difficult matchup for the Longhorns.

    Apparently the network executives agree, because the game will be televised during prime time on Saturday night. Despite the lack of BCS implications, the game will be an entertaining conference matchup nonetheless.

    Here’s what to look for when you settle in to watch Kansas State vs. Texas …

The Quarterbacks

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    Texas quarterback David Ash and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein will both be without some of their offensive weapons this weekend. And while that might mean less offense, it also means more decision-making for the men under center.

    Ash will have to play without the help of all-purpose back Fozzy Whittaker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Missouri. The Texas quarterback will likely be without leading rusher Malcolm Brown and top receiving threat Jaxon Shipley on Saturday as well.

    Klein will have to compete without wide receivers Brodrick Smith and Tyler Lockett at his side, both of whom will be out for extended periods of time—likely the rest of the season.

    Ash and Klein won’t make excuses, but the lack of offensive playmakers will certainly limit their ability to perform at their peak. Look to see which quarterback makes the smart plays, knowing that he’ll have to take what’s given to him by the defense instead of relying on big-name teammates.

The Running Game

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    The Texas Longhorns are 15th in the nation in rushing yardage with an average of 227.4 yards per game. Not far behind are the Kansas State Wildcats, who average 208.5 rushing yards per game, good for 22nd in the country.

    If you subscribe to the old football mantra, “Control the clock—control the game,” you’ll be watching to see which team dominates the line of scrimmage on offense and opens up holes for the ground game.

    With two formidable rushing attacks on the field, the Texas vs. K-State game will come down to the battle in the trenches.

    Both teams will try to establish the run as part of their offensive game plan, since neither passing attack is a considerable threat—Texas ranks 92nd in the nation, while K-State comes in 109th.

The Standings

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    Kansas State has assured itself of a winning record in Big-12 conference play this season, regardless of how they perform in their remaining games.

    Conversely, Texas has been treading water near .500 in terms of their conference record all season.

    The Longhorns will have a good chance to take over sole possession of fourth place in the Big-12 with a win against K-State. (Baylor—who will face Oklahoma in its next game—is currently tied for fourth with Texas.)

    A win over a solid Kansas State team will afford Texas some measure of creditability; if not in the BCS, then at least in the Big-12 standings.

The Bounce Back

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    A key to the Kansas State vs. Texas game will be which team can better manage its emotions after playing a difficult game last week.

    Kansas State is coming off a hard-fought four overtime win over Texas A&M and Texas is trying to recover from a 15-7 loss at Missouri.

    K-State had to battle last weekend in order to earn its eighth win of the season, and it can’t afford to come out flat against Texas. The Longhorns will undoubtedly start the game with all kinds of energy as they attempt to prove to their fans that they've forgotten about last week's game.

    A team’s ability to bounce back from a tough game is often an indicator of preparation. The coaching staffs for Kansas State and Texas will have their work cut out for them as they prepare their respective teams for the upcoming game in Austin, TX.

The Coaching

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    Both head coaches in this game are well known, though for different reasons.

    Texas coach Mack Brown has made his mark on college football at one of its premier programs, the University of Texas. His coaching résumé includes 223 career victories, one national championship and two Big-12 championships, among other personal awards.

    Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has only recently returned to the national spotlight, as his Wildcats have been the surprise of the Big-12 this season. Not only is Snyder known for his team’s performance this year, but his name is known to gamblers who’ve latched onto K-State’s ability to cover the spread lately.

    Depending on which kind of fan you are, you’ll have equally good reasons to cheer for one coach or the other—whether it's for the love of the game or the love of your wallet.

The Defense

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    More specifically, Texas’s ability to stop Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.

    Texas is allowing 101.2 rushing yards per game on defense, good for 10th in the nation. Those stats aren’t bad, but Texas hasn’t faced a dual-threat quarterback like Klein yet this season.

    Klein already has 24 rushing touchdowns on the year—compared to his 10 passing touchdowns—proof that he trusts his legs more than his arm. The Longhorns defense will need to key on Klein as a rushing threat, which means stacking the box to prevent him from running all over them.

    Watch for more eight-man defensive fronts from Texas on Saturday as it looks to neutralize—or at least, slow down—Klein when he tucks the ball to run.

The Atmosphere

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    Conference rivals facing off at night in one of America’s most football-crazed states. Kansas State vs. Texas is worthy of the hype based on the time and location of the game alone.

    Everything’s bigger in Texas, remember?

    Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium boasts a seating capacity of 100,119 and already set an attendance record earlier this season when Texas played Rice on September 3. There’s a good chance Saturday’s game against K-State will break the record of 101,624 paid attendees set this year.

    With over 100,000 spectators in attendance—most of whom wearing burnt orange—Texas will host Kansas State in an atmosphere that ranks among college football’s best.

The Cheerleaders

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    What can I say? Football is a spectator sport for more than one reason.

The Rivalry

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    I know that “Kansas State vs. Texas” doesn’t conjure the same mental images as “Alabama vs. Auburn” or “Michigan vs. Ohio State,” but there is some level of rivalry associated with the Wildcats and Longhorns.

    Going back to 1998, K-State holds the edge in the series between the two teams at 5-2. For a program that’s as steeped in tradition as the University of Texas, I’m sure that record doesn’t sit well with the team.

    Texas knows that Kansas State has gotten the better of the rivalry lately, and the Longhorns will be looking to protect their home field at all costs.

    In case Texas fans need a reminder of K-State’s last visit to Austin, the visitors came into Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in 2007 and beat the home team 41-21. I’m sure Texas head coach Mack Brown will remember to bring that up in his pregame pep talk.

The Pointspread

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    This game opened at Texas (-9.5) and has since been bet down to Texas (-8.5) at most sports books. The reason for the line move is that the money is coming in on Kansas State, even though they’ll be playing on the road.

    Historically speaking, Texas has been a dominant program in the Big-12 but K-State recently has begun to change its own perception in conference.

    In the recent meetings between these two teams, Kansas State has given its backers reason to celebrate; K-State has been an underdog in its last three games against Texas, but has won all three games outright.

    Coaches might not publicly acknowledge how big a role the point spread has in motivating the players, but you can be sure that both Texas and Kansas State are aware of the line.

    (And of the recent history of this matchup, for that matter.)