Both teams will be trying to keep their Big 12 title hopes alive this week when the Texas Longhorns host the no. 16 Kansas State Wildcats. The two teams will kick off at 3:30 EST on Saturday, November 9 at Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. Fans can catch all of the action on ESPN.
According to this week’s college football betting odds, the Longhorns are 6.5-point favorites at home. The game also has an over/under of 58 points.
In less than a month, Texas went from a team that had College Football Playoff hopes to a team that’s barely in the Big 12 race. During the month of October, the Longhorns fell short in the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma and got upset by in-state rival TCU. Sandwiched in between was a 2-point win over Kansas in which Texas barely averted disaster.
As a result, the Longhorns begin their stretch run 5-3 overall and 3-2 in Big 12 play. They have slim hopes of returning to the Big 12 title game for the second straight season, but only if they can win their final four games of the season and get some outside help. That means Texas will have to beat two top-20 teams and endure tricky games at Iowa State and home against Texas Tech. Plus, the Longhorns haven’t yet locked down a bowl spot, something that could be in jeopardy if they don’t get a win this week.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats have come out of nowhere to become contenders in the Big 12. K-State looked dead in the water after losing their first two conference games of the season. But the Wildcats have come alive behind new head coach Chris Klieman, winning three in a row, including an upset over Oklahoma.
With last week’s win over in-state rival Kansas, the Wildcats are already bowl eligible and have their sights set on a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. K-State will need a little outside help to finish top-2 in the conference. But because they have a tie-breaker advantage over Oklahoma, if the Cats win out and the Sooners lose a second game, they would play for a conference championship. Of course, all of that goes out the window if the Wildcats lose to Texas on Saturday.
Texas coach Tom Herman has defeated the Wildcats in both of his first two seasons in Austin. In fact, the Longhorns have four wins in their last six head-to-head meetings with K-State and the Wildcats haven’t won in Austin since 2011. However, Kansas State’s losses to Texas the last two seasons have both come by less than a touchdown, so these two have played plenty of close games in recent years.
To me, this is a case of two teams moving in different directions. The Wildcats are surging and must be brimming with confidence as they prepare to invade Austin. On the other hand, I’m starting to lose faith in Texas after the way they’ve played for the last month. Even in their three conference wins this year, the Longhorns have struggled to win by comfortable margins. Texas might find a way to win, but the Wildcats will force a close game, so I’ll take the underdog and the points.
The Kansas State defense is the biggest factor pushing me toward the Wildcats in this game. It’s not the most talented unit, but they’ve found a way to turn things around after starting 0-2 in Big 12 play. Even though they gave up 41 points against Oklahoma, they kept the Sooners out of the end zone in both the second and third quarters, which allowed their offense to build a lead. I like their chances to give the Texas offense some problems and keep the Longhorns out of rhythm.
Speaking of the Texas offense, they’ve had some problems in recent games. For starters, Sam Ehlinger threw four interceptions and completed less than 50% of his passes against TCU. I’ll give him a pass because the performance was so out of character for Ehlinger, but it was concerning nonetheless. Also, keep in mind the Longhorns allowed nine sacks in their loss to Oklahoma, which is a weakness the K-State defense might be able to exploit.
On the other side of the ball, I’ve lost almost all faith in the Texas defense. I can understand giving up points against Oklahoma, but letting Kansas score 48 points is unacceptable. Things didn’t improve much the next week against TCU either. In fact, every Big 12 team they’ve faced has scored at least 30 points against the Longhorns.
To be fair, I’ve been skeptical of the Kansas State offense all season. But I have to give them credit for the way they’ve played during the team’s winning streak. Despite having just seven touchdown passes on the season, quarterback Skylar Thompson is making just enough plays with his arm and has been a menace with his legs. Thompson has scored seven rushing touchdowns over the last two games. He and James Gilbert are turning into one of the better rushing tandems in the country.
All things considered, I don’t trust the Texas defense enough for the Longhorns to cover a touchdown in this game. Even a somewhat limited K-State offense stands a good chance of continuing the trend of Texas giving up at least 30 points against Big 12 opponents. If that happens, the Kansas State defense should provide enough resistance to stay within a touchdown and possibly pull off another upset.