Kansas returns to Lawrence to host this year’s edition of the Sunflower
Kansas (1-7, 0-5) comes into the matchup off a very disappointing 55-3 affair in Stillwater against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, K-State (5-3, 2-3) seeks bowl eligibility after dominating TCU in Manhattan by a 31-12 score.
Surely the media is being much nicer to folks in the K-State program lately, as the Wildcats have won two in a row after dropping their first three conference games.
K-State has won 12-straight in this series, the longest such streak between the two programs.
The series is the 10th most-played “rivalry” in FBS and the fourth-longest consecutive series in the entire NCAA in football.
Just like many of us suspected, Kansas is who we thought they were, and the ceiling is the roof. A week after beating* Oklahoma, the Jayhawks were completely inept at Oklahoma State, and the game was all but over early in the second quarter.
The stadium is already likely to be at least half K-State fans. Kansas needs to do whatever it can to shorten the game, keep the score close, and keep hope alive. That means following the formula that worked against Oklahoma: get Neal going, control the clock, keep K-State’s offense on the sideline. That includes converting on third down and/or being aggressive on fourth down. Unfortunately, Kansas has been unable to do this most of the time in the past 30 years against their in-state rival.
Controlling the clock against K-State will be made more difficult because that’s exactly what K-State wants to do as well. Not that they’re worried about KU’s offense or anything - I’m sure that’s not the case at all. Rather, that’s just how the Wildcats play. KSU’s run/pass split so far this year is around 55/45, which is pretty close to KU’s 60/40.
Fortunately for the Jayhawks, KSU’s offense has not been as deadly as in the past. The Wildcats are averaging 6.1 yards per play on the season, but are still ranked in the bottom third of FBS in Rushing Offense, Passing Offense, and Total Offense. Indeed, while KU ranks last in the Big 12 in those same categories, K-State ranks 9th. So I guess what I’m saying is, that means this is the second-worst offense in the Big 12.
The problem is, I’m not sure KU is good enough defensively to shut them down. Kansas has allowed an average of 48 points this season against FBS opponents, despite the curious outlier of shutting down Oklahoma for two and a half quarters (and the Sooners still scored 35 points).
Where K-State is having more success than KU is defensively. The Wildcats rank in the top half of the Big 12 (and top third of FBS) in Rushing Defense, Total Defense, and Scoring Defense. Of note, KU’s offensive line has only allowed two sacks in the last six games; K-State has been officially credited with 7 sacks in their last two games (although it really should be 9).
Teams have had success against K-State through the air this year, with opposing QBs completing 71.2% of their passes on the season. But in their last two games (TCU, TTech), opposing quarterbacks have completed just 28-47 (59.6%) pass attempts against the Wildcats. So, if K-State has indeed figured out that part of their defense, it could make for a long day for the Jayhawks.
ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor is not too much different, giving the Wildcats a 93.7% chance of victory.
Meanwhile, Sagarin also prefers the Wildcats by a similar margin, giving KSU a 92% chance to come away victorious. Sagarin has Kansas ranked #146 and K-State ranked #30 (out of 258).
While Kansas should find things a bit easier offensively compared to last week, the Jayhawks have yet to show that they can consistently move the ball and put up points. KU has been held below 30 points in every game but one, which was still a blowout loss (at Duke). Additionally, KU hasn’t even gotten into double figures in three of their games this year.
Then there’s the whole Sunflower Beatdown thing. Since 1995, KU has lost this game in blowout fashion (defined however I feel like it) 19 times out of those 26 matchups. Four of those games KU actually won, which means that only three times in the last quarter-century has KU kept a loss “close” (2005, 2009, 2018).
Unfortunately, I think the media is likely to lavish some more of the requested praise upon the K-State this weekend. K-State 48, Kansas 17.
Wisconsin and Minnesota own the longest continuous rivalry in FBS, having played every year since 1907. Overall, the Badgers and Gophers have met 130 times, more often than any other two programs. Wisconsin barely leads the series, 62-60-8, but much like the KU-KState rivalry it has been extremely one-sided recently, with Wisconsin going 23-3 against Minnesota since 1995.