The seventh-ranked Kansas State Wildcats will play for the Big 12 Conference championship and an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game when they play host to the 23rd-ranked Texas Longhorns on Saturday night.
After going 4-0 in the month of September, Texas dropped back-to-back games to West Virginia (48-45) and Oklahoma (63-21) to all but dash its hopes at a conference crown. The Longhorns were able to bounce back nicely with four straight wins, but they suffered another setback in their latest bout on Thanksgiving night to TCU, 20-13. They have not been intimidated outside of Austin however, winning all four of their road games this year.
Texas head coach Mack Brown knows that his team will have its hands full with Kansas State, and he is quick to give the Wildcats credit for their outstanding season.
"I think my friend (Kansas State head coach) Bill Snyder has done the best job hands down of anybody in the country, from his starting date at Kansas State until today," Brown said. "I don't think anybody would question that. You have to give the man credit for being one of the best, if not the best coach in the country. They're a tough, well-coached football team. We have a great challenge ahead."
The Wildcats were unstoppable in the early going this season, winning each of their first 10 games, and with Alabama losing in early November, they were able to rise to No. 1 in the national rankings, giving them a clear path to the BCS National Championship Game. All that came crashing down for K-State on Nov. 17 however, as it went on the road and lost handily to Baylor, 52-24. While it's hopes of becoming national champions are dashed, it'll be able to claim the conference crown with a win or an Oklahoma loss.
Snyder viewed the team's bye week between matchups as both a blessing and a curse.
"It is a double-edged sword," Snyder said. "The time is needed from a rest standpoint for our players. Maybe it would have been better to have it a little sooner than this, but that is hindsight. The other side of the coin is you have to let (the loss to Baylor) fester for that period of time. That can be good or bad -- it depends on how they respond to it."
Kansas State holds a 7-5 edge over Texas in the all-time series, which includes a 17-13 win in Austin last season.
The Texas offense (37.2 ppg, 443.5 ypg) has fit right in with the rest of the teams in the high-octane Big 12 this season, but last week it managed just 13 points against TCU.
David Ash completed just 10-of-21 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions in the loss before leaving with injured ribs. Ash is still hurting, so the team will turn to Case McCoy as its starter. The junior has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 408 yards with four touchdowns to just one interception in limited opportunities.
Without Ash, the Longhorns will likely rely more on their potent running game. Johnathan Gray (654 yards) and Joe Bergeron (562 yards) have nearly split carries right down the middle, and it's usually Bergeron's number that gets called in the red zone and he has 16 touchdowns, the most in the Big 12 among running backs.
Mike Davis is the team's leading receiver in terms of catches (51), yards (891) and touchdowns (seven). Jaxon Shipley is also having a stellar campaign (46 receptions, 581 yards, five TDs), but no other player has more than 22 receptions.
The Longhorns defense oftentimes let the offense down early in the season (28 ppg, 417.7 ypg), but the unit has played much better in recent weeks, allowing just 16.5 ppg in their last four games.
Quandre Diggs and Carring Byndom have three interceptions apiece, but as a team Texas has a modest 17 takeaways in 11 games. Steven Edmond has racked up a team-high 92 tackles, and Alex Okafor is one of the best pass-rushers in the conference with eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
Despite putting up just 23.5 ppg over the past two games, Kansas State still has one of the best offensive attacks in the nation (40.5 ppg, 415.7 ypg) led by its Heisman candidate under center.
Collin Klein has been one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Not only is he completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,306 yards, 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions, but he has also rushed for 787 yards and 20 more scores. Klein did not make a great impression against Baylor, however. Even though he contributed three touchdowns, he also tossed three interceptions in the loss.
John Hubert has clearly benefited from having a star quarterback alongside him in the backfield, as he has rushed for 826 yards and 12 touchdowns, although since rushing for 100 or more yards in four of the team's first five games, he hasn't eclipsed the century mark since.
Chris Harper had a huge game against Baylor (11 receptions, 123 yards, TD), giving him 47 receptions for 727 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Tyler Lockett (38 receptions, 579 yards, three TDs) has also benefited from Klein's outstanding play.
The Wildcats defense has played well all season long (20.8 ppg, 371.0 ypg), but they laid an egg in the most important game of the year, allowing 52 points to Baylor.
Ty Zimmerman (five INTs, two fumble recoveries), Allen Chapman (four INTs), and Nigel Malone (four INTs) have all been active in the turnover department. Arthur Brown (80 tackles, two INTs) and Meshak Williams (8.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) have also had standout seasons.