Can K-State raise the Big 12 Championship Trophy two years in a row?
Earlier this afternoon David Ubben gave his best- and worst-case scenarios for K-State, and I think he does a good job of identifying just where the ceiling and floor lie for this team. I’d also like to point out (as Ubben does on a weekly basis to legitimatize himself) that the blogger for ESPN’s Big 12 coverage picked the Wildcats to finish second the conference last year and probably gave K-State more credence than any other national writer. He’s not too shabby with his appraisals. So where exactly does Ubben see K-State possibly finishing, and how realistic is each scenario?
First the low-end. With a season-opening loss to FCS North Dakota State and only three conference wins (West Virginia, Iowa State, and KU), the team would finish 5-7 and outside of bowl eligibility. I think this is a reasonable floor. K-State seems to struggle in at least one nonconference game it shouldn’t every year (remember, North Texas outshined K-State’s passing game last year), and the two-time defending FCS Champion could expose a young defense and new quarterback. Such an outcome would immediately drop the Wildcats out of the rankings with an uphill battle for legitimacy the rest of the season.
Is 5-7 likely? Absolutely not – that’s why they call it a floor. It’s the worst we could foresee happening, but not what we necessarily expect. Wins against West Virginia, Iowa State, and KU can’t be guaranteed but it’s highly unlikely the Wildcats falter against these three. Yet with the talent among the top seven teams in the league so great, the Wildcats could conceivably struggle out of the gate, and stay home in December.
The ceiling is where I disagree slightly with Ubben, who says the best-case scenario for this team is 10-2 and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. While I try to walk the line between homer and fan here, I’m not unrealistic in believing another BCS Bowl is well within the realm of possibility for this team. Here’s how:
K-State should be expected to win six games regardless – the three nonconference plus the three conference games mentioned above. And while an undefeated season is a bit too much to envision, it’s not impossible to imagine the team going 5-1 against the league’s top six schools. A brief rundown of why each game is winnable:
First (difficult) game at Texas: We own Texas, their quarterback situation remains laughable in my eyes, and this team just seems to always find a way. Reminiscent the game when Collin Klein was a surprise starter at quarterback as a sophomore, the quarterback not starting against Louisiana Lafayette and UMASS gets the nod against the Longhorns, Mack Brown is unprepared, and the Wildcats enhance their Big 12 record against Texas to 8-2.
Second game at Oklahoma State: While the Cowboys have become the media favorite to win the Big 12 in recent months, K-State has a bye week going into this game. And while this is the most likely place K-State falters, remember that Daniel Sams came in for Collin Klein with 9:47 left in the third quarter to help win this game last year.
Third game versus Baylor: Yes, I’ve heard the defense is improved, but there’s still a new QB, it’s still Baylor, and there’s no reason to believe K-State couldn’t pull out a home victory here. Don’t expect 2012 to necessarily repeat itself, as the defense will be ready for Lache Seastrunk this time.
Fourth game at Texas Tech: Tech is hell-bent on returning to the top echelon in the Big 12 and ESPN recently rated it one of the teams best built to succeed long-term. However, K-State badly exposed the Red Raiders last year 55-24, and their offense still isn’t ready to put up the points needed against the Wildcats.
Five game versus TCU: TCU was the immediate favorite following the 2012 season to come back and win the league, but player trouble and a reevaluation of the team have limited optimism about TCU. This should still be a top-20 team, but the Horned Frogs offense did not score until garbage time against the Wildcats last year and has yet to prove it can work the scoreboard like it needs to.
Sixth (difficult) game versus Oklahoma: Imagine how rocking Bill Snyder Family Stadium would be if a conference championship was up for grabs when the Sooners come to town. It’s a home game, Oklahoma suffered even more turnover among its starters than K-State did this offseason, and Blake Bell will be the starting quarterback. I remember what happened the last time the Belldozer stepped onto the field against K-State, and it was awesome.
Honestly, there’s not a game on this schedule K-State couldn’t win, it’s just that expecting victories in all six is pretty unrealistic. Yet the one game most would write off the Wildcats in (at Oklahoma State), the team will have two weeks to prepare a little trickery and surprise the Cowboys. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but another 11-1 season is probably a better ceiling to give this team. And if they can go 11-1, well, who knows? I’d love to see Snyder in just one national championship game before he retires for good. This team is used to surprising folks; maybe this is finally the year.