Do head-to-head trends matter when 2 new coaching staffs have taken over a pair of rivals?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Paul Johnson gave the Navy Midshipmen a brand new lease on life during the maiden few years of a tenure in Annapolis, and rival Notre Dame experienced coaching turnover in the same time period. But it took years and years for Navy to start beating even the most pedestrian of Fighting Irish teams.
But when Jimbo Fisher took over a Texas A&M in 2018, the Aggies hadn’t beaten LSU since joining the SEC several years prior. But the program found new energy and a new direction under Fisher’s leadership, and beat Louisiana State in an all-time OT classic last year.
The question isn’t whether head-to-head results matter. It’s how a fresh selection of coaches affect a roster’s level of play in comparison to past results. If A&M is usually a (+20) underdog vs Alabama and a skipper improves the Aggies to the level of a likely (+10) underdog, the squad is still not favored to win.
That’s about where Les Miles is with the Kansas Jayhawks right now. To say that the former LSU coach has breathed new life into Lawrence charges is an understatement. And yet the Kansas State Wildcats – a much-more established brand with a long winning streak over KU – are still favored in this Saturday’s “Sunflower Showdown.”
Who: Kansas State Wildcats at Kansas Jayhawks
When: Saturday, November 2nd, 3:30 PM EST
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS
Lines: KSU (-5) at KU (+5) / O/U Total: (57.5)
Has Chris Klieman improved KSU all that much, or is the Wildcats’ 5-2 record a product of the team’s schedule thus far, with exception of the surprise win over OU?
K-State began the season with easy wins over Nicholls State and Bowling Green. A 3rd-straight win would follow, this time over Mississippi State – but there’s clearly something wrong with the MSU Bulldogs who have lost every cowbell-clangin’ battle since then.
Since then, the Wildcats have beaten only 1 team other than Oklahoma – the catch-as-catch-can TCU Horned Frogs – while losing to 2 out of 4 conference opponents. Baylor demolished Kansas State by 19 points.
Klieman’s ‘Cats remind me of Bill Snyder’s a lot, because the program is still capable of stout defense but doesn’t always play that way, and capable of scoring points only when you stop expecting them to. Las Vegas was certainly caught off-guard by KSU’s 48-41 shocker in Norman last weekend. It’s just nothing that the old regime couldn’t have pulled off with the same batch of players. Oklahoma lost because too much of its production came from Jalen Hurts while K-State got James Gilbert cranked-up in the ground game and tossed it around to nearly 10 receivers.
In other words, Kansas State can still put-together quality wins and out-play bookmakers’ expectations. Yet there is nothing in the team’s schedule and outcomes through 7 games to offer concrete evidence of consistency. Just because a program is coming off a big win doesn’t mean it will win again right away; Illinois in 2019 is not always the trajectory of even a winning roster. Klieman always had superior talent at NDSU and is not rewriting the book. KSU is still a solid betting commodity but should not be mistaken for a contender on the basis on 1 result.
You wouldn’t mistake KU for a contender either, but the Jayhawks are contending in Big-12 scrums and that’s a gigantic leap forward. Kansas has not played well against common-opponents headed into the Sunflower Showdown, but styles make fights, and Les Miles has spent much of the last 10 years game-planning against offenses similar to that of QB Skylar Thompson and Kansas State.
What’s more, Kansas had its own barn-burner (and a controversial finish to boot) vs an aristocrat of the conference in Week 8:
The Jayhawks have been on the wrong end of a pair of notable officiating decisions over the last two games — one of which actually earned an acknowledgement of sorts from the Big 12 office. A week before the Jayhawks’ 37-34 win over Texas Tech, the team was on the road in Austin taking on the Texas Longhorns. The Jayhawks were unable to keep Texas from marching down the field on the final drive of the game and kicking a game-winning field goal to bring the final score to 50-48. The Longhorns received the ball at their own 25 with 1:11 to play and two timeouts. Texas reached the 15-yard line with five seconds left before kicking the game-winning field goal from 33 yards away. However, KU coach Les Miles later noted he felt there were some issues with the clock on the final drive of the game.
“We did review that,” said Big 12 officials coordinator Greg Burks. “I had a conversation with Coach Miles. The clock should have started at 32 seconds after the quarterback [Sam Ehlinger] made a first down. The chains were reset. The referee wound the clock, and we missed, I’m going to guess, four seconds that should have come off the clock at that point.”
Ouch. It’s so weird how if the clock would have ran, and Kansas had won, the point spread would be closer to a pick’em for this Saturday in Lawrence…but what does a faulty clock have to do with the next week’s spread?
In any toss-up contest the Vegas underdog is always the proper gamble. KU is a terrific moneyline ‘dog and a very solid wager to cover (+5).