Can K-State football stay in contention for a Big 12 title after losing starting quarterback Skylar Thompson for the season? The Wildcats are 3-0 in the conference and tied with Iowa State and Oklahoma State, both of whom have zero conference losses along with the Wildcats. With Kansas next on the schedule, K-State is in good position to go to 4-0 before a tough stretch of games against West Virginia in Morgantown, Oklahoma State in Manhattan and Iowa State in Ames.
The injury to Thompson leaves K-State with true freshman Will Howard taking the reigns at quarterback along with dynamic true freshman Deuce Vaughn starting at running back and a young and inexperienced offensive line up front. The defense has been strong and special teams have been solid as well, which has all helped K-State go undefeated in conference thus far.
I know it’s early, but I was looking at the Big 12 team stats and it’s interesting to note that Iowa State and Oklahoma State are number one and two in the conference in both rushing offense and rushing defense. Even though the conference is known as a passing and high scoring league, it would appear that “old school” football of running the ball and defending the run are still pretty important for success. K-State has struggled running the ball and defending the run, currently sitting at seventh in the league in rushing offense and sixth in the league in rush defense. In order to keep winning, K-State is going to have to shore up the offensive line and run the ball successfully to keep the pressure off of Will Howard.
Iowa State and K-State are both 3-0 against common opponents. Iowa State beat TCU by three. K-State beat them by seven. Iowa State beat Oklahoma by seven. K-State beat them by three. Iowa State beat Texas Tech by 16. K-State beat them by 10. K-State lost their non-conference game against Arkansas State 35-31 and Iowa State lost their non-conference game 31-14 against Louisiana. Similar results this season by both programs, yet Iowa State is talked about as a title contender and K-State is generally not. Interesting.
The West Virginia game in two weeks will tell us a lot. If K-State takes care of business against Kansas, they will be tied for first place with either Oklahoma State or Iowa State, who play each other this coming weekend. We only have a small snapshot of what Will Howard can do running the offense and even though his stats weren’t impressive against TCU he did enough to lead the Wildcats to a 21-14 victory in his first collegiate start.
K-State always seems to be the team everyone forgets about. A couple weeks ago, the College Gameday crew was talking about their favorites to win the Big 12. At the time, K-State was 2-0 in conference and was set to play TCU later that day. The guys on the show discussed Oklahoma State, Iowa State, TCU and even Texas and Oklahoma getting back in the race. Most people probably didn’t notice the omission of K-State other than K-State fans. To be honest, maybe the Wildcats didn’t deserve mention at the time after losing their first game to Arkansas State. The program is used to those kind of snubs and historically it’s always been a good thing for K-State because the team always played with a chip on their shoulder under Bill Snyder and that trend has continued under Chris Klieman.
More and more pundits are counting K-State out now that Skyler Thompson is out for the season. The Cats are going to have to play with a “the world is against us” attitude every game from here on out. It may help with focus, but will it lead to success on the field? It may seem unlikely that the team stays in contention for the title, but regardless of what happens the rest of this season the future looks bright for this young team as long as Chris Klieman is the coach. It’s a fun team to watch. They are fundamentally sound, they play hard, they love their coach and they play with a chip on their shoulders. That’s a good formula for success no matter how you cut it.
Chris Klieman and his staff want to run the ball and control the clock. Every game so far this season has been a close contest and that will most likely be the case going forward. They’ve come out on the right side thus far, but can they keep it going? Only time will tell.
So are the Wildcats contenders or pretenders? Current opinion: CONTENDERS.
*If you like what you’ve read from Joe Mathieu, find more on his personal K-State site: http://www.kstatejoe.com/*