As I’ve written about in the past, the college football season is extraordinarily short, meaning that we often overreact to one week of results. This week, Baylor travels to Kansas State, a team which shocked the CFB world several weeks ago when it somewhat comfortably beat Mississippi State in Starkville, MS.
Now, that win’s luster has significantly dimmed after Mississippi State had its doors blown off by a top-10 Auburn. Combine that with a disappointing showing at Oklahoma State, and many Baylor fans feel that K-State was a mirage and Baylor should definitely beat them. Instead, I’ll argue that K-State remains a remarkably competent but average team—not a team that will compete for the conference title, but one that is difficult to beat at home.
A Brief Statistical Overview
After week 4 (i.e., after a bye week and wins against FCS Nichols State, Bowling Green, and Mississippi State) Kansas State had climbed up to 27th in SP+, just two spots behind then 25th Baylor (Baylor had a rating of 14.1, while K-State had a rating of 13.8, meaning that Baylor would be favored by 0.3 points on a neutral field). This was doubly impressive because K State had began the season with a preseason projection in the 60’s—it is incredibly difficult to move up that far after just a few weeks. Thus, K-State was playing something like a top 15 team after 4 weeks.
Then, Oklahoma State happened. K-State could not get much of anything going on offense and dropped the game 13 to 26. But, while this was an undeniably disappointing performance from K-State’s offense, I’d like to propose a question: How many times do you think Oklahoma State is going to be held to 26 points at home (or at all?) this year?
After the Oklahoma State game, K-State fell from 27th in SP+ down to 35th. More descriptively, their rating fell from 13.8 down to 9.0, a pretty big drop after one week. For comparison, Baylor’s rating rose from 14.1 to 14.9.
Currently, Kansas State’s offense ranks as 58th and 34th in offense and defense, respectively. These stats paint a pretty clear picture: they are not world beaters, but they are not really bad at any one thing. You’ll have to earn your victory.
They Have a Pretty Good Quarterback
In a league with some pretty damn good QBs, K-State QB Skylar Thompson has been lost in the shuffle. Is he is as good as Hurts/Ehlinger/Brewer/Purdy? Probably not. But he certainly is no slouch. Watching the MSU game I was very impressed. Watch this run on an early QB draw—looks like Charlie Brewer to me:
On the very next play, he makes a throw that very few college QBs can make: a deep comeback route to the wide side of the field. K-State is on the near hash and the throw reaches the numbers on the far side. Remembering what a hypotenuse is, this throw is somewhere around 37 yards (the throw is 17 yards long, 33 yards wide) on a line. This throw is almost always available in the college game because it is so difficult.
This next throw does not need much explanation for how good it is:
Of course, you can cherry pick highlights for most players and make them look great. But I didn’t really have to do much to find these plays. Thompson has been steady and good.
The Oklahoma State Offensive Clunker
I was a mystified as everyone else when Kansas State only managed 13 points against a below average Oklahoma State defense. K-State did not light the world on fire against MSU, but they showed that they could run their preferred power run schemes against a legitimate SEC defensive line. The weakest area of Oklahoma State’s defense is on the DL, so the fact that K-State only managed 3.9 yards per rushing attempt is certainly worrying. Furthermore, Skylar Thompson was a meager 11-23 for 118 yards, a bad performance.
Listening to a portion of K-State coach Chris Klieman’s press conference, he had an interesting explanation. Coming off a bye week, he felt that they put in too many concepts against OSU which led to them not doing much of anything well. He says they’ll pare back down and concentrate on the things they do well. This could just be an excuse that doesn’t mean much, but it certainly makes sense to me.
Outlook for the Baylor Game
Baylor fans have known for years that K-State has a great home field advantage. Even with teams that were far superior, Baylor has struggled up there. Winning on the road with 18-23 year olds is hard! Furthermore, I think, like many teams after a disappointing loss, K-State will come into this game reinvigorated and looking to get back on track. Baylor should expect K-State’s best shot this weekend.
I really like the matchup of Baylor’s defense against K-State’s offense. Thus far, Baylor has been tremendous stopping the run with toughness and great team tackling. Something to watch early is whether K-State’s preferred power running schemes are working. They have a lot of variety in their run schemes which means Baylor’s LBs have read their keys and Baylor’s safeties have to be ready to rally to the ball.
Barring some some crazy turnovers giving K-State great field position, I feel pretty comfortable in predicting that Baylor will hold K-State under 24 points (my best guess is 17). The crux of this game comes down to Baylor’s offense, which has very much been feast or famine this year. With the 34th ranked defense per SP+ this year, K-State presents a formidable challenge on the road.
K-State brought a lot of pressures against Spencer Sanders last week, which resulted in him making some ill-advised throws. Credit to Ian Boyd for this gif:
Iowa State brought a ton of pressure against Baylor last week, and you have to think a big reason was because Baylor has struggled against pressure this year. Expect more of the same from K-State this week.
Charlie Brewer protecting the ball this week will be critical. If Baylor stays at 1 turnover of fewer, I think Baylor will win by purely being more efficient on offense and defense, eventually grinding down K-State. But, in a hostile environment, some ill-timed turnovers that give K-State a short field could make all the difference.
Overall, it is semantics, but I do not think this is a game Baylor “should” win. I.e., if Baylor loses a close one this weekend I don’t think its much cause for concern, though it would be a big blow to Big 12 title game hopes.
As of now, Vegas has Kansas State favored by 2 points. SP+ has Baylor as a 2 point favorite. Because of matchups, mostly in Baylor’s defensive advantage over K-State’s offense, I’ll take Baylor 24 - KSU 17.