AMES, Iowa – The matchup of the year in Big 12 appears to be just a little over a week away, when sixth-ranked Kansas State travels to face No. 5 West Virginia.
To make the showdown a reality, West Virginia needs to win this week at Texas Tech. And the unbeaten Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) need to beat Iowa State, which isn't the pushover it used to be.
Just ask Oklahoma State about that.
Kansas State emerged as a serious threat to the win the league title after it beat preseason favorite Oklahoma in Norman and crushed rival Kansas 56-16 last week. While it's tempting to look ahead to their matchup against the Mountaineers, the Wildcats know that overlooking Iowa State (4-1, 1-1) is a terrible idea.
The Cowboys were the last top 10 team to visit Ames, and their loss here last November ruined their national title hopes.
"They offer a challenge to virtually anybody they play. Certainly they will for us," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of the Cyclones.
That might all be true. But the Wildcats have looked about as strong as anyone in the country so far.
Collin Klein has been the kind of quarterback Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads would love to have for his run-based spread attack. Klein is completing 67 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns against just a pair of picks. On the ground, Klein has 405 yards and seven more TDs.
Kansas State certainly has other weapons, most notably star tailback John Hubert, who is second in the Big 12 with 527 yards rushing and eight TDs. But the key is stopping Klein, which has proven difficult.
"Klein is a very big man," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He's a very smart football player. He's a very strong football player."
It's no surprise that Kansas State is also among the best defensive teams in the Big 12.
Many might not have guessed that the Cyclones are right behind the Wildcats.
Iowa State is third in the league at just 15.8 points allowed per game, a total nearly identical to the second-ranked Wildcats. The Cyclones will be facing an unbeaten opponent for the fifth game in a row, and yet they haven't given up more than 24 points in any game this season.
"They are a very experienced defense, very disciplined. They know how to execute what they are in, and how to make tackles," Klein said.
Iowa State's offense hasn't been anything special this season. But the Cyclones subbed out turnover-prone quarterback Steele Jantz for sophomore Jared Barnett last week, and Barnett responded with three touchdown passes to Josh Lenz in a 37-23 win at TCU.
The Cyclones need Barnett to give them productive and largely mistake-free play to have a shot against the Wildcats.
"He's got to do his job. He's got to do his job well, and that's the consistency you're talking about," Rhoads said of Barnett.
Kansas State has won the last four meetings with Iowa State, including a pair of close victories at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium in 2009-10 and a 30-23 victory in Manhattan last December.
But it's been five years since the Wildcats have had to make the trek to Ames.
"''I think it is going to be a tough road test. I know coach Snyder talks about it all the time about keeping the game in between the white lines, and we know that they are going to play extremely hard, play disciplined and play well," Klein said.