Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Dream Lives!

This week K-State faced one of its toughest tests of the year - TCU.  The Horned Frogs were one of the top teams in the pre-season ratings, and expected to make some waves in the Big 12.  They've fallen a bit short of expectations, but still posed some tricky hurdles for the Wildcats.  They have a history of being a giant-killer, taking out their last three visiting top 5 opponents.  Head coach Gary Patterson is a former KSU player and coach, and has a drive to win like no other.  They play tough defense, and are good a taking the ball away.  Perhaps more than anything else, TCU just plain knows how to win, with 11+ wins in four out of the last seven seasons.

But, K-State, as we all know, is not without weapons of their own, and they took care of business.  Here are some highlights:

Looking at the stats, TCU actually outplayed the Wildcats.  They had more first downs, more yardage, and better time of possession.  They forced two turnovers in the game from a disciplined Wildcat offense that has given up only four in the previous nine games combined.  One of the most remarkable stats of the year, though, has to be points off turnovers.  Before the TCU game:

The Wildcats' four turnovers through their first eight games are the fewest in the country, and the 24 they've forced are fifth-most. The result is a plus-20 turnover margin that's more than triple any other Big 12 team. 
The result? Kansas State (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) has outscored opponents 111-0 off turnovers. 
Yes, that's not a misprint — 111-0 in points off turnovers.

It's astounding, really.  Personally, I think this points to a very underrated defense that is truly great at throttling offenses of every kind.  But, TCU finally managed to crack that egg, scoring a late touchdown in the final 3 minutes of the game after a KSU fumble.  The game was out of reach at that point, and the statistic is still pretty mind-blowing, but the 0 was really nice to have on the other side.  :)

I heard a lot of talk this week about how K-State has yet to have a bad game.  They've had plenty of good ones, but not one where things just seemed to go wrong, and the ball bounces the wrong way.  This appears to have been that game.  But, the important thing is that they still found a way -- largely on the backs of a smothering defense that had shut out TCU for almost 54 minutes -- to get the win.  Most pundits will tell you that championship teams find a way, and that's just what the Wildcats did.  Despite the disparities in the stats, it really didn't feel at all like it was a close game.  This is one of those where the numbers just don't tell the story.

With the stunning loss of #1 Alabama to Texas A&M, this opens the door to K-State moving to #1 in the next BCS rankings tomorrow night.  Oregon and Notre Dame also won, so that will likely be the new top trio.  There's an outside chance that Oregon might hop over K-State since they're higher in the human polls, but it really doesn't matter.  What counts is simply getting into the championship game, whether as #1 or #2.  Again, a quick review of the remaining schedule of these three teams:
K-State: Baylor, #17 Texas
Oregon: #14 Stanford, #11 Oregon State
Notre Dame: Wake Forest, #19 USC
Oregon still has the toughest road to go, with two ranked teams and the PAC-12 Championship, probably against a third ranked team.  If they win out, they will certainly have earned their spot in the title game.  This rapid uptick in their strength of schedule will also likely push their computer rankings up to #1, giving them the top spot at some point before the end.  Notre Dame has a cupcake game before finishing with USC, which has had their number in 9 of their last 10 meetings.  They are probably better than USC, but it's hard to see a scenario where they gain enough 'style points' to leap over either KSU or Oregon if all three win out.  K-State has what should be a cupcake-ish game against Baylor (though Baylor does have a decent passing attack, and if K-State has a weakness it's the pass defense...more on that next week), followed by a week off and then a tough finish against Texas.  Texas' resurgence late in the year means it's not only a tough game, but also that the nation will be watching, so it's another opportunity for the Cats to put a smackdown on another ranked opponent.  K-State has inexplicably had Texas' number for several years, even during the Ron Prince years.  The week off will be great for getting healthy and game-planning, and finishing against a highly ranked opponent like Texas will help bring KSU back onto the national thought scene after the bye week.  K-State should be fine on this one, too, and it will provide a great opportunity for a last-minute BCS statement.

One more win and K-State will guarantee at least a share of the Big 12 Championship for the year.  Collin Klein still has the inside track on the Heisman.  Who would have thought we'd be saying this about the Kansas State Wildcats??

It's been a terrific year, and we're now on the home stretch.  Let's hope the focus, the determination, and the drive continues...and ratchets up another notch each week.

PS - my favorite article about this week is by Jen Floyd Engel, and can be found here.

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