While K-State appeared to host about the most mediocre slate of opponents in the nation to start the season, the team’s play has been one of extreme highs and lows. Yet it seems like the schedule could actually be more difficult than the Wildcat’s have been given credit for. Out of curiosity I checked the Sagarin Rankings (the unofficial standard for strength of schedule rankings). What I saw was that K-State’s schedule to-date is ranked 19th in the nation. That’s right – the Wildcats have subjected themselves to one of the 20 hardest slate of games in the country. Here’s what those opponents have done since playing the Wildcats:
North Dakota State: Back in May I began defending K-State’s decision to schedule a two-time defending FCS National Championship returning almost every starter from 2012. But that was simply because I expected the game to be close – I did not envision a loss to the Bison to begin the season. Jake Waters’ final drive ended with an interception and 24-21 interception, and North Dakota State began another march to a national championship. The Bison are 8-0, with their most recent victory a 56-10 triumph over Indiana State.
Louisiana-Lafayette: It wasn’t a pretty win, but K-State righted the ship with a 48-27 victory over Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns bounced back the next week with a 70-7 win over Nicholls State. They have since compiled a 5-2 record, going undefeated in conference play with their only losses to K-State and Arkansas.
Massachusetts: Considered a strong contender for worst team in the FBS, K-State could ill-afford a close game against the Minutemen. The 37-7 victory wasn’t exactly the stuff legends are made of, and UMass continues to struggle with a 1-7 record on the season.
Texas: K-State was supposed to win this game. Kicking off the Big 12 season, despite having to travel to Austin, the Wildcats brought the conference’s most electric running quarterback to play against a team that was embarrassed by its inability to contain the run against Ole Miss and BYU. Well, apparently Ole Miss and BYU are pretty damn good (both have been highly successful this season), while Texas is 4-0 in league play and demolished Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry.
Oklahoma State: Hoping to take advantage of an early bye to leave Stillwater with a win, K-State let a lead slip away in a 33-29 loss to the Cowboys. That’s a four point loss to a 6-1 squad ranked #18 in the nation.
Baylor: Everyone knows how good Baylor is. The Bears average 64 points per game, but regularly let their foot off the pedal early in the third quarter. Yet K-State held a lead in the fourth quarter of an eventual 35-25 loss. Baylor went on to beat Iowa State 71-7 the next week and is now in the top five of the BCS standings at 7-0 (btw – the defense is sixth nationally, allowing 15.9 points per game. Nasty).
West Virginia: K-State’s opponent last weekend, the Wildcats used a big fourth quarter to blow open a 14-12 game, triumphing 35-12. The Mountaineers are now 3-5, and 1-4 in conference play.
Is this murderer’s row? Not really. But North Dakota State will go undefeated this year. Louisiana-Lafayette is the class of the Sunbelt Conference and may well finish the season 10-2. Texas is finally putting all those elite recruits to work, Oklahoma State could still win the league if it defeats Baylor, and, well, Baylor has really only played one game this year. If you don’t win games, you don’t deserve to play in the postseason. But K-State’s rough start has been more challenging than appears at first glance. Unfortunately SOS doesn’t come into play for lower level bowl selection, but that doesn’t mean I can’t commend the team for standing up against one of the most difficult itineraries in the nation.