I had one recurring thought on Saturday as I watched K-State beat Texas Tech in Manhattan and watched a few other Big 12 games that day. The recurring thought was that K-State is no longer a dark horse to win the Big 12. Nope, they are a legitimate contender and perhaps one of the favorites to appear in the Big 12 championship game on December 3rd.
Sure, Chris Klieman’s Wildcats have started fast before, only to wither down the stretch. In 2020, they won their first four conference games, were tied for first place, and ranked 20th in the country before losing the last five games of the season. Even though the Wildcats looked like a contender after four games, it was proven to be a mirage. But something feels very different about this year’s K-State football team. They are potent in all three phases of the game and have legitimate stars on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The non-conference loss to Tulane still sticks in my craw, but despite that lone speed bump, the Wildcats have looked very impressive thus far in 2022.
Here are a few reasons that K-State is a contender to play in Dallas on December 3rd.
1) The combination of quarterback Adrian Martinez and running back Deuce Vaughn
Martinez and Vaughn have each rushed for over 100 yards in two consecutive games, a school record. Think back on all the great quarterback/running back combos that K-State has had over the years that never accomplished this feat. Michael Bishop and Eric Hickson. Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles. Collin Klein and John Hubert. That is to name a few. Martinez and Vaughn are a lethal one/two punch that is very hard for teams to defend because either is a home run threat every time they run the ball. They each had 170 yards rushing against Texas Tech, and K-State is currently fourth in the country in rushing offense. If they keep this up, the Cats will likely play in Arlington in December.
2) The defense
The K-State defense has given up a lot of yards, but big plays have been the story so far. Felix Anudike-Uzomah is currently fifth in the country in total sacks and sacks per game, and he had three sacks against Texas Tech. Khalid Duke added three sacks in the game against Tech. That marked the first time in K-State history that two players had three sacks in the same game. Linebacker Daniel Green and safety Kobe Savage have been playing great, and nose tackle Eli Huggins has been strong on the defensive line. As long as this group continues to produce and make big plays, the Wildcats can win every game remaining on the schedule.
3) The race is wide open
Oklahoma State and Baylor look solid, and Kansas is better than expected, but nobody in this league is head and shoulders above anyone else. My analysis is changed from pre-season when I thought there were some indisputable losses on K-State’s schedule to now thinking that every game remaining is winnable. The Wildcats have already gotten by Oklahoma, who is 0-2 in the league, and Texas Tech. I am well aware that there are no easy victories in the Big 12, but sans Oklahoma State, which has a smaller sample size than others, it doesn’t appear that there is a clear favorite. So why not K-State? They have the tools on both sides of the ball to make a run and are playing with confidence.
That being said, I almost didn’t write this article so as not to jinx anything. When the Vegas line opened on Farmageddon, it opened as a pick ’em and quickly moved to K-State minus two. As I watched the Iowa State/Kansas game on Saturday, I didn’t feel that either team would be much of a problem for K-State (or Texas Tech, for that matter.) The oddsmakers must feel differently. Iowa State is at home and will be hungry to get a victory after starting league play with two losses. They need a win and will be motivated to get it. They also have won the last two games against K-State by a combined 58 points. A data point that stuck out to me is that K-State has the fourth-best rushing offense in the country while Iowa State has the ninth-best rushing defense. Something has to give on Saturday. I’m guessing all of these points factored into how they came up with the line for this one. I would probably be pretty concerned about this game in previous years, but this year’s K-State squad seems different than in past years, so I’m not as concerned as I otherwise might be. My initial thought about this game was that K-State would win by a couple of touchdowns. The Vegas line made me rethink that point differential, but I still think K-State gets a close victory. K-State 24 Iowa State 20.