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Baylor vs. Kansas State Football Prediction and Preview

Abram Smith, Baylor Bears Football

Abram Smith and the Bears look to stay in the Big 12 title game chase when they host the Wildcats in an intriguing conference matchup

The Baylor Bears and Kansas State Wildcats are set to meet in Manhattan Saturday in a Big 12 game with bowl positioning, and even a spot in the league title game, at stake. 

After knocking off previously undefeated Oklahoma 27-14 in Waco last week to improve to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Big 12 action, Baylor sits one game behind the Sooners and rival Oklahoma State in the standings with two games (including the Bedlam game in Stillwater) to play for each. 

Meanwhile, Kansas State beat West Virginia 34-17 to improve to 7-3 (4-3) last week and increased its winning streak to four. A win over the Bears could push K-State as high as No. 3 in the league standings and, with it, potentially a spot in a prominent bowl game.

No. 11 Baylor at Kansas State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -1

When Baylor Has the Ball

Abram Smith was recently named as a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best running back in the country. Not bad for a player who spent most of his time at linebacker in 2020. Smith leads the Big 12 and ranks fifth on the FBS leaderboard with 120.3 rushing yards per game, and he has scored 11 times on the ground, which ranks among the top 25 nationally. His 7.3 yards per carry ranks ninth among all qualified players and second among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. But Smith isn't the only talented runner on the roster; Trestan Ebner has contributed 643 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on 114 carries, 14 catches for 112 yards and another score, plus a third TD as a kick returner. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon ranks third on the team with 283 rushing yards and is second only to Smith with nine touchdowns. Together, the Baylor offense leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth nationally with 238.1 rushing yards per contest.

Bohanon also is a quality passer, having connected on 64.3 percent of his attempts for 2,078 yards and 16 touchdowns, though it’s also worth mentioning the first-year starter has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions combined across his last four starts after posting an 11:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his first six games. Tyquan Thornton quickly emerged as Bohanon’s favorite target, and he leads the Bears with 46 receptions, 757 yards (16.5 ypr), and eight touchdowns. However, Baylor has also gotten quality receiving production from fellow wideout R.J. Sneed (37 rec., 529 yds., 2 TDs) and tight end Ben Sims (22, 288, 4).

When Kansas State Has the Ball

Surprise, surprise, K-State has its own Doak Walker Award semifinalist in Deuce Vaughn. In addition to his 987 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore, Vaughn leads the Wildcats with 40 receptions, 427 yards and three touchdown catches — all of which rank among the top 20 in the conference. Vaughn isn't the entirety of the K-State offense, but he's asked to carry a heavy workload. Joe Ervin, who ranks second to Vaughn with 317 rushing yards on 62 carries, including two touchdowns, is the only other running back with more than 12 carries or 56 rushing yards on the 2021 stat sheet.

Quarterback Skylar Thompson has four rushing touchdowns but hasn't come close to the production of his first three years on campus because of injuries the last two years — including a lower-body injury that sidelined him to two games in September. Instead, Thompson has pushed the ball downfield to the tune of 9.6 yards per pass attempt while completing 71.6 percent of his passes for 1,686 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions. Phillip Brooks (32 rec., 422 yds., 2 TDs), Malik Knowles (24, 341, 2), and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (9, 274, 2) offer the most help to Thompson (and Vaughn) in the passing attack.

Final Analysis

It probably surprised a few folks to learn Kansas State is a slight favorite according to oddsmakers, even at home, given Baylor's win over Oklahoma last week. The Bears have also been incredibly impressive (the unexpected loss to TCU aside) bouncing back from a disappointing 2020 season. The improvement from 2-7 to 8-2 (and counting) will surely earn Dave Aranda some votes for the various national coach of the year awards. Nevertheless, Kansas State has been on a roll recently, and the teams are evenly matched in terms of overall talent, as well as most offensive and defensive metrics. Plus, the Wildcats will host the matchup, which is worth roughly 2.5 points according to most established guidelines.

It should be close, and Baylor has the motivation — but also the pressure — of its proximity to a possible Big 12 Championship Game appearance to play for. Nevertheless, we give Kansas State the slightest edge to come out on top.

Prediction: Kansas State 26, Baylor 25

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— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.