Editor’s note: Installment No. 3 of “Head Games” takes us to Manhattan for Saturday’s tilt between Kansas and Kansas State. Nobody, from Vegas to the University Daily Kansan, expects this game to tilt even slightly toward the Jayhawks, and for good reason. Still, you know there are optimists out there… but does that mean even the sunniest of folks expect KU to win? Nah.
By Cyle Kitchen
The Kansas Optimist
As the game finally arrives against rival Kansas State, Kansas is out to prove they are a much improved team over the one KSU beat handily the last two years under Turner Gill.
Charlie Weis comes into this rivalry with little knowledge of what the rivalry actually means without reading about it. The lack of knowledge could actually help Weis when leading his first Jayhawks team into Manhattan. Weis came to Lawrence with the first promise of being competitive, and, to this point, he hasn’t disappointed even if the wins haven’t come. Having leads in two of the three losses heading into the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks realistically could be 3-1.
Weis knows “learning to win” is something he has to teach this team. All week, he has been telling his team no one expects them to win. No one expects it to be close, including Vegas, which set the bar between 23 and 24 points to start. With a new QB and handful of transfers, the last two years don’t mean much to this particular team. All of this is in Weis’ favor to use the “shock the world” mentality when giving his locker room speech before the game. Kansas State may win the game this year, especially being at home, but it will be closer than most people think.
Prediction: K-State 21, KU 14
The Kansas State Optimist
The K-State players continue to evolve and understand what it means to be a Bill Snyder football team. Run the football, take care of the ball and play hard-nosed, run-stuffing defense. They know who they are, and fully believe in who they are.
And now, after a huge win at Oklahoma, the Wildcats had a bye week to rest and get healthy before Kansas. Some may look at this game as a trap coming off the win at OU, but the mentality of this team mirrors the coach, meaning: while the OU win was great, it was just another game.
Collin Klein used last year to gain the confidence of those around him. This year he is leading those around him. Each game is now a stepping stone to where this team believes it belongs even if the “experts” didn’t a few months ago. Averaging 243 yards a game on the ground (14th in the nation), KSU pounds you until you forget who you are. Kansas is allowing just over 185 yards rushing per game (90th in the nation). The one thing Kansas has done well this year is create turnovers (1.50 per game T-9th). If Kansas State takes care of the ball as they usually do, they should have no issues putting away their in state rival.
Prediction: K-State 45, KU 13
The Kansas Pessimist
In March 2006, K-State hired Bob Huggins to take over its basketball program. During a press conference, Huggins was asked about the rivalry with Kansas. Huggins, not one to hide his feelings, said in order to have a rivalry, one team can’t win all the time. Weis walks into a similar situation when talking about Kansas and Kansas State football.
Kansas has started this season at 1-3, and yes, KU has been competitive in every game. However, that doesn’t matter when two of those losses are to Rice (1-4) and Northern Illinois out of the MAC. Kansas kept the game close against TCU but managed only six points. Offensively, Weis is known for his creativity, but that side of the ball has been atrocious to this point — especially passing (191.5 ypg, 100th in the nation). Dayne Crist came to Kansas and was instantly named the starter, but he has looked more like the guy benched at Notre Dame than the savior he was deemed to be when he arrived to Lawrence.
That said, Kansas has been able to run the ball, averaging over 178 ypg. But, that average plummeted to just 128 yards per game over the last two (both losses). None of this bodes well when heading into Manhattan on Saturday. Kansas may very well make this a competitive rivalry once again under Weis, but the Jayhawks just don’t have enough talent to even keep it close this year.
Prediction: K-State 42, KU 17
The Kansas State Pessimist
With every big win comes every head coach’s fear of his team becoming complacent. Bill Snyder knows that Kansas is a better team this year than the two previous Jayhawks teams, even at 1-3. He knows Kansas has enough talent on offense to challenge his defense if the Wildcats don’t come to play.
The Monday following the OU win, Snyder even went as far to say he would vote against his team to keep them from being ranked so high. The worry isn’t that KU is that good, but that K-State will think it is that good and not show up to play this week, even against the rival. Given the 118-28 spread the past two seasons between the two teams, Snyder knows it would be easy for his team to look across the field this Saturday and believe they don’t have to show up to knock off Kansas.
Snyder has worked to instill in his teams a workman’s mentality of taking every minute of every quarter serious no matter the opponent. This weekend, the battle for Kansas State isn’t as much Kansas, but whether or not it will treat KU like Miami and Oklahoma. I could easily see Kansas State taking this game lightly in the beginning, only to pull away based on the disparity in talent between the two teams.
Prediction: K-State 35, KU- 21
The Kansas Realist
Kansas is a better football team than it has been the past two seasons, but with similar results so far. The offense has started slower than last year, but the defense has been surprisingly better, especially in creating turnovers.
Surprisingly, the passing game has struggled since many thought Crist would come in and click like he was a perfect fit for the offense Weis originally recruited him for at Notre Dame years ago. It hasn’t happened. Crist comes into this contest with only two touchdown passes and four interceptions in four games. The inability to score (21 points per game, 107th nationally) puts a lot of pressure on the defense. This plays right into the type of game the Wildcats want to play. Kansas State takes care of the ball on offense and averages 40 points a game while only giving up an average of 15.5. Crist and the Jayhawks offense must take care of the ball and get the running game going early in order to keep the defense rested… or this game could be over by halftime.
Prediction: K-State 38, KU- 17
The Kansas State Realist
After avenging last year’s loss to Oklahoma two weeks ago, Kansas State looks to avoid its own defining upset. Kansas State knows Kansas has nothing to lose and everything to gain by knocking off the Wildcats.
K-State will look to play its style, which Weis described earlier this week during an interview when asked what it would take to beat KSU in Manhattan.
“We need to play their game,” Weis said. “Run the football, play mistake-free football on offense and play good defense.”
Problem is, Kansas State has been doing it for years under Bill Snyder, and might have its best all-around team since the 2003 Big 12 championship group. At this point, Kansas State has a more talented team than Kansas, and, similar to the game against Oklahoma, as long as Kansas State doesn’t beat itself, it should walk out of Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a decisive win.
Prediction: K-State 38, KU 10
PAST HEAD GAMES:
- Head Games: Missouri 21, Central Florida 16
- New to Head Games? Check out the first edition, where we offer a primer in addition to the column itself: Kansas State at Oklahoma