Kansas State (7-1) at TCU (7-1) Nov. 8, 7:30, FOX
Here’s The Deal: Depending on who wins this game, this is either the Big 12 championship, or else it’s a big step in figuring out the conference’s pecking order.
If you’re a fan of the Big 12 in general, and you want to see one of the league’s teams get into the College Football Playoff, then root for TCU. The Horned Frogs have an amazing offense, a good enough defense for the Big 12, and a decent non-conference win against Minnesota that might not be a killer, but trumps anything Baylor might try to present on a resume. More than that, with wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia over the last few weeks, they’ve earned the street cred, getting up to sixth in the latest CFP rankings and will only go up – eventually – if they can get by the No. 7 team this week. The biggest piece of puzzle is the remaining schedule, going to Kansas and Texas and finishing up against Iowa State. Any team that’s good enough to even think about the playoff has to roll through those three games without breathing hard.
If you’re a fan of any other Power 5 conference, and you want to see the Big 12 potentially bow out of the playoff hunt, then root of Kansas State. Of course, if the Wildcats win, they actually might be front-and-center for a spot among the big four considering their only loss so far came against Auburn, but unlike TCU, the remaining schedule is brutal with road games at West Virginia and Baylor wrapped around the free space date against Kansas. With only some due respect to Baylor, it’s going to be a tough sell to put in an 11-1 team with no decent non-conference win and with a blowout loss at West Virginia, as good as Mountaineers are. So, fans of the Big Ten and SEC, hoping to get a second team in, you need Kansas State to pull this off.
Both teams are the real deal. Are they as good as any of the top five teams in the SEC West? No, and they’d each probably have at least three losses in the division, and they each have big flaws, but that’s not the point. If one of them goes 11-1, it’ll absolutely deserve a spot to show what it can do on the big stage.
It’s a common cliché – the playoffs start now. In the Big 12, they really do.
Why Kansas State Might Win: A lot of what makes TCU work isn’t going to fly against Kansas State. The Horned Frogs have lived off of turnover margin, ranking No. 1 in the nation helped by going +3 against West Virginia. One problem: Kansas State doesn’t screw up. The Wildcats were -2 against Auburn, and it just so happened that the only loss this year came in the one game they gave the ball up more than once. Kansas State is 17-0 over last three years when winning turnover battle.
The Wildcats, overall, have the right formula, currently ranking third in the nation in fewest penalties, while TCU usually gets tagged for 66 yards a game on average in sins. KSU is great in time of possession, and it doesn’t give up a slew of big plays down the field. However …
Why TCU Might Win: While Minnesota is nowhere near as tight as Kansas State as a team, and it doesn’t have anywhere near the same passing game, TCU already played a team that lives on time of possession, pass efficiency defense, turnover margin, and a tough ground game, and won 30-7 in a dominant performance. There’s a chance TCU comes up with a few early scores, gets out to a hot start, and forces Kansas State to panic a bit as it tries to mount a big comeback. Kansas State has an underappreciated passing game that doesn’t screw up and makes lots of plays down the field, but this isn’t a team built to get into shootouts. It can do it, and it can keep up the pace, but that’s not its game.
TCU has to win third downs. Kansas State does everything it does by moving the chains and keeping the clock moving – converting 49.5% of the time – but TCU is tremendous defensively on third downs, allowing teams to convert 30% of their chances and not allowing anyone to hit 40% or more.
Who To Watch Out For: Jake Waters has been better than you think. The Kansas State quarterback might not be getting a whole bunch of national love, but he’s playing through a shoulder injury and still producing, coming up with 200 passing yards or more in every game with 11 touchdowns and three picks, not throwing an interception ever since giving away two against Auburn five games ago while throwing nine touchdown passes during the time. Excellent last year in the 33-31 win over TCU, throwing for 234 yards, he’s been very steady, very good at keeping the mistakes to a bare minimum, and being the exact type of quarterback Kansas State needs.
What’s Going To Happen: Kansas State will be Kansas State. TCU will come up with a few big plays, but slow and steady will win the race. The Wildcats will keep the high-powered Horned Frog offense on the sidelines for long stretches, and will hold on late needing to come up with a big defensive stand in a very fun, very important game.
Prediction: Kansas State 34 … TCU 30
Line: TCU -6 o/u: 57.5
Must Watch Factor: 5: Sonic Highways – 1: Anything involving Nik Wallenda … 5
Kansas State (7-1) at TCU (7-1) Nov. 8, 7:30, FOX