This is already shaping up to be a memorable year for the three Sunflower Slate conferences — the KCAC, MIAA and Jayhawk — with just over a month of the season under their belts and already a pair of huge upsets (Sterling over No. 8 Tabor and Highland over No. 4 Butler) and 3 of the 4 Kansas teams from the MIAA undefeated and ranked (No. 10 Pitt State, No. 15 Washburn, No. 24 Emporia State).
So what needs to be done in the latter half of the season to close out a title, playoff berth, bowl bid or all of the above?
Let’s take a look at each conference:
Who’s in first: No. 10 Ottawa (3-1, 2-0), No. 20 Friends (3-1, 2-0), McPherson (3-1, 2-0)
Biggest surprise so far: McPherson, no doubt. But they’ve got Ottawa and Friends back-to-back starting Saturday.
Who gets the title: Friends, because linebacker Marcus Carter is so dominant and does that thing where he’s a great player and makes everyone around him better. If running back Thomas Hankerson can stay healthy (a big if) they can control the clock on that side of the ball and win games that way. If Hankerson can take it, he should get 20-30 touches each game.
Who’s in first: No. 3 Northwest Missouri (4-0, 3-0), No. 6 Missouri Western (4-0, 3-0), No. 10 Pittsburg State (4-0, 3-0), No. 15 Washburn (4-0, 3-0), No. 24 Emporia State (4-0, 3-0)
Biggest surprise so far: That this many teams are still undefeated. Not necessarily in first, but unbeaten. They’ve all faced tests so far and all passed. That being said, it’s still so strange to me that Pitt State won’t get to face any of the three Kansas schools once again. Just doesn’t seem right.
Who gets the title: I think this is Missouri Western’s year.
Who’s in first: No. 14 Dodge City (5-1, 4-1), No. 15 Butler (4-1, 3-1), No. 16 Garden City (4-1, 2-1), Hutchinson (3-2, 3-1), Coffeyville (3-2, 2-1)
Biggest surprise so far: See, above. Look at that thing. A five-way tie? Seriously.
Who gets the title: The herd starts thinning out this weekend with Coffeyville at Highland and Butler at Garden City. I’ll stick with my preseason pick of Hutchinson.