When Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) and Kansas State (8-4, 6-3 Big 12) take the field at NRG Stadium in Houston on Dec. 28 in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, it will result in a collision between two former conference foes.
Texas A&M jumped out to a hot start (6-0) before stumbling to a 2-4 finish. Two of the losses were against great teams in No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 25 LSU. A 35-28 road loss to Mississippi State followed by a 29-28 home defeat to Ole Miss at the hands of true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson in November restarted the “hot seat” talk for head coach Kevin Sumlin. In Sumlin’s favor, the Aggies did have big wins over ranked teams in 2016 including UCLA, Arkansas, and Tennessee with another notable win over then-unranked Auburn, who is playing Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Kansas State started slow (3-3) but ended hot with the benefit of an easier Big 12 schedule, winning five of its last six games. The Wildcats’ lone loss in the second half of the season was a 43-37 defeat to then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Kansas State can claim wins over a pair of bowl teams in Baylor and TCU, as well as Texas.
Both squads enter the game with powerful rushing attacks and the ability to put points on the board. On paper, Kansas State may have a leg up with a better defense while Texas A&M has a far more effective passing attack than the Wildcats.
When you factor in some shared history, as both were members of the Big 12 from its inception in 1996 until 2012 when Texas A&M left for the SEC, It all adds up to what should be another thrilling Texas Bowl.
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State (Houston)
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kansas State QB Jesse Ertz Exploit Texas A&M’s Pass Defense?
One of the glaring holes in the Aggies’ defense is their secondary. Texas A&M is second to last in the SEC and No. 100 nationally against the pass at 255 yards per game. Ertz’ passing statistics (57.1 percent completion rate, 1,560 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT) don’t exactly jump off of the page, as the Wildcats rely more on running the ball. However, the opportunity is there for the Wildcats to do a little more damage through the air.
Ertz’ primary targets have been Dominique Heath (41 rec., 413 yds., 3 TD), Byron Pringle (36-524-3), and Deante Burton (26-379-1). Heath and Pringle are sophomores who are just starting to find their groove at the collegiate level. They will be challenged going up against safety Justin Evans, who leads the Aggies with four interceptions, and cornerback Nick Harvey, who has a pick and team-high 10 pass breakups.
2. Can Kansas State Slow Texas A&M’s Passing Attack?
While the Aggies have had trouble defending the pass, the same can be said about the Wildcats. In fact, Kansas State is even lower than Texas A&M in the FBS rankings for passing defense, checking in at No. 110 (270 ypg). Aggies senior quarterback Trevor Knight hasn’t put up gaudy numbers either (2,122-16-6) and has struggled with his accuracy (52 percent), but his receivers possess plenty of big-play ability.
Knight’s top targets are Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. Kirk is one of the more dangerous receivers in the nation with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Kirk led the Aggies with 77 receptions while notching 842 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Reynolds is the big-play threat at 18.1 yards per catch with a team-high 885 yards and 10 scores.
While the Wildcats have given up 23 touchdown passes to this point, they also have 15 interceptions as three different defenders – D.J. Reed, Duke Shelley and Donnie Starks – have three each.
3. Which Defense Will Stop the Running Quarterback?
Both Ertz and Knight can punish a team with their legs on designed runs or when a play breaks down. In Kansas State’s system, the quarterback is the focal point of the offense. Ertz led the Wildcats in rushing yards with 945 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Charles Jones was a distant second with 577 yards on 110 carries with just two scores.
Knight is more of a scrambler with some run/pass option (RPO) duties for Texas A&M. True freshman running back Trayveon Williams is the Aggies’ leader in the backfield with 1,024 yards and eight scores while Knight is second with 594 yards but a team-high 10 touchdowns.
In theory, Texas A&M’s defense can focus on Ertz while Kansas State must be wary of both Knight and Williams, making the ground matchup more difficult for the Wildcats.
Perhaps the main thing Kansas State has going its way heading into the Texas Bowl is momentum after winning its final three games to end the regular season. But it should be pointed out that of the Wildcats’ eight wins none of them came against teams that were ranked at the time. Bill Snyder’s teams have gone bowling each of the past seven seasons, but can claim just one season-ending victory.
Texas A&M stumbled its way to the postseason yet again, losing three of its past four games. Despite another November stumble, Kevin Sumlin is 3-1 in bowl games as the Aggies’ head coach, including wins over a pair of Big 12 teams – Oklahoma in the 2013 Cotton Bowl (41-13) and West Virginia (45-37) in the ‘14 Liberty Bowl.
Texas A&M holds a slight 8-7 edge in the all-time series with Kansas State, including the 10 meetings when the two were Big 12 foes. The last time they played was in 2011 in Manhattan. Even though this game is on a neutral field, NRG Stadium is less than two hours away from the Aggies’ campus in College Station. Advantage goes to the team playing a little closer to home and had to navigate a tougher schedule to get to Houston.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Kansas State 33
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.