The West Virginia Mountaineers are facing a must-win situation this week as they hit the road to face the no. 24 Kansas State Wildcats. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas. The game is being broadcast on ESPN.
The Week 12 college football odds list the Wildcats as 14.5-point favorites at home. The game also has an over/under of 47.5 points.
Neal Brown’s first season at West Virginia has not unfolded how the Mountaineers would have hoped. One year after the Mountaineers were genuine contenders in the Big 12, it looks like they won’t even be playing in a bowl game. Following last week’s 38-17 home loss to Texas Tech, another team with a losing record, the Mountaineers have lost five in a row, erasing a promising 3-1 start to the season. At 3-6, West Virginia now needs to win their three remaining games to qualify for a bowl game. However, the odds appear to be slim with a pair of top-25 teams on the schedule, as well as a road game against TCU. At this point, the Mountaineers might settle for just one win in their final three games to help prevent a last-place finish in the Big 12.
On the contrary, Chris Kleiman’s first season at Kansas State has gone better than most expected. Despite losing a close game to Texas last week, the Wildcats have already secured a bowl bid thanks to a road win over SEC foe Mississippi State and a shocking upset over Oklahoma. K-State is clinging to slim hopes of reaching the Big 12 Championship Game if they can win out and get a lot of help. But even if they don’t get the help they need, a 10-win season is still on the table if the Wildcats are able to win the rest of their games, including their bowl game.
In the meantime, Kansas State is hoping to put an end to their three-game losing streak against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have knocked off the Wildcats in each of the last three seasons, including a 35-6 blowout last season and a 28-23 win when they last visited the Little Apple.
West Virginia might not win all three of their remaining games to become bowl eligible, but the Mountaineers have a fighting chance to win this week. For the record, I’d be surprised if Kansas State lost this game. However, the Wildcats aren’t the type of team to win by comfortable margins. Plus, West Virginia has played a few close games this year, including a 3-point loss to undefeated Baylor last month. I think the Mountaineers can at least keep this game within two touchdowns and beat the spread.
As a team, I usually have no problem trusting Kansas State to grind out a win. But I rarely trust the K-State offense to light up the scoreboard. In four of their six Big 12 games this year, they’ve been held to 24 points or less. That’s usually not enough to cover a 14.5-point spread. The only exceptions to that stat are their blowout win over lowly Kansas and K-State’s shocking upset over Oklahoma. That’s not enough to convince me that the Wildcats will surpass 24 points this week.
The only thing the Wildcats excel at offensively is not hurting themselves with turnovers. Quarterback Skylar Thompson has thrown just one interception this season. However, he’s also averaging less than 180 passing yards per game and has just nine touchdown passes. He was brilliant against Oklahoma, but that game has been an aberration. The K-State rushing attack has also been unreliable in recent weeks, especially with leading rusher James Gilbert missing the last two games with an injury. In short, the Wildcats don’t create a lot of explosive plays, which makes a two-touchdown spread tough to cover.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that the West Virginia offense has been abysmal this season. It’s been a rough transition for the Mountaineers away from Dana Holgorsen’s offense, as evidenced by WVU scoring 17 points or less in four straight games. The running game is one of the worst in the country and quarterback Austin Kendall has struggled without much support around him, either on the offensive line or from the team’s skill players.
However, the Mountaineers could throw a curveball at Kansas State after Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege saw action last week in relief of Kendall. It’s likely that Kendall will start, but the Wildcats should also be prepared to face Doege. He put up solid numbers on a bad Bowling Green team last year and actually has more playing experience than Kendall. Doege also led the Mountaineers to a garbage-time touchdown last week against Texas Tech, impressing in his brief opportunity.
While Doege is a nice X-factor who could give the West Virginia offense some life, this pick is all about my lack of faith in the K-State offense. Even with a strong defensive effort, I’m not sure the Wildcats can score enough points to gain much separation from the Mountaineers. This is also the kind of game when a garbage-time touchdown could bring the margin of victory under the spread. It’s a tough call, but I’ll take my chances with West Virginia beating the spread.