The Sunflower Showdown is always a big game, but today’s battle between Kansas and Kansas State goes way beyond bragging rights.
If the Wildcats win they will further increase their lead atop the Big 12 North standings and be in terrific shape to go on and win the division.
If the Jayhawks win they will become bowl eligible and get back into the conversation for a North title.
Both teams have only a few games remaining, and anything is possible. But it will be awfully hard for either of these squads to get to where they want to be without first picking up a win in Manhattan.
The Jayhawks come into this game looking nothing like the team many picked to go to a big-time bowl game before the season started.
Kansas has lost three straight games after a 5-0 start and is no longer ranked.
Its quarterback, senior record-breaker Todd Reesing, was benched for performance/health/confidence reasons (the reports on the reason are mixed) at the end of its most recent loss at Texas Tech and top wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe is suddenly dropping routine passes.
Still, K-State coach Bill Snyder respects Kansas like it is 8-0.
His thoughts on Reesing: “Todd is probably the most intelligent quarterback in the game today. He has a 4.0 GPA, he makes good decisions and he always seems to know where to go with the football. He stands in and finds the throwing lanes that they create for him.
“He has the ability to get outside of the pocket and can run the ball pretty well. He is also a tough young guy. He throws the ball very well and he can put the ball just about wherever he wants. He has got some excellent receivers to throw to.”
On KU wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier: “They both have very good size. They have the ability to lay out for the ball; they can catch just about anything that is thrown their way. Kerry has as good of hands as you can find in college football.
“He has a knack to get himself into open spaces. It’s hard to defend those guys. Their numbers that they are putting up this year are a testament to that.”
There is always the chance KU could fix all its problems this week, but based on the Jayhawks’ string of recent turnovers and inability to stop the opposition from scoring touchdowns after those turnovers (their last nine turnovers have led to eight touchdowns) those are a lot of problems to fix over night.
I’m not sure the Vegas odds makers got it right when they labeled KU as a 2.5-point favorite in this one.
About Kansas State
K-State is playing its best football of the year right now.
Sure, it lost at Oklahoma last week 42-30, but c’mon. After falling behind by 21 points in that game, the Wildcats outplayed the ranked and respected Sooners and just about pulled an amazing upset.
The games before that, K-State won rather convincingly. In short, its season has progressed as much as Kansas’ has regressed.
“Kansas State is a team that has shown a lot of improvement since last season,” KU coach Mark Mangino said. “They are improving in every area of their game. They are certainly a much more sound, fundamental football team. They play good fundamentals, just like you would like to have your team play all the time.
“What we preach here is the same thing they preach. They are aggressive on defense and they have enough playmakers on offense to hurt you. They have one of the best, if not the best, return man in the country in Brandon Banks, who can really change the momentum of a game.”
If Banks returns a kickoff for a touchdown against KU, he will tie the NCAA single-season and career record. He has four so far this season.
His ability to set K-State’s offense up with good field position will be key. So will the Wildcats’ ability to force turnovers, pressure Reesing and effectively throw the ball as well as run it.
If the Wildcats force turnovers and record sacks, they will win. If Grant Gregory throws for close to 200 yards and Daniel Thomas continues to do his thing, they will win.
Having lost three in a row to KU, that would mean a lot to the veterans on K-State’s roster.
“I’m quite certain that the vast majority of our players would like to bring the Governor’s Cup back to Manhattan,” Snyder said. “This game is very important to all of our team, especially our players from Kansas. I think that this is a very significant game for every one involved on both sides.”
When KU runs the ball: K-State
When K-State runs the ball: K-State
When KU throws the ball: KU
When K-State throws the ball: KU
Special Teams: K-State
Prediction: K-State 27, KU 23