The Jayhawks (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) are coming off a very disappointing and painful loss to in-state rival Kansas State, in a game that was surprisingly one-sided considering the improvement the Jayhawks seemed to be making with an emboldened offense and improved defense.
For the second time this season the Cowboys (6-3, 3-3) find themselves in the national rankings, checking in at No. 25 in the AP poll. This move was bolstered by back-to-back wins over then-No. 23 Iowa State and TCU. The two wins also helped the Pokes punch their postseason ticket for the 14th straight season. So they’ve got momentum on their side.
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -17.5
When Kansas Has the Ball
Will the real Jayhawks offense please stand up? Who can figure out these Rock Chalkers? When Les Miles made Brent Dearmon the offensive coordinator before the Texas game, that seemed to ignite the Jayhawks O. KU scored 48 points with 569 yards vs. Texas, followed by 37 points and 527 yards vs. Texas Tech. Just when things were looking good, the Wildcats put the squash on them, holding the Jayhawks to 241 total yards and 10 points last week.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Man, the Jayhawks had a hard time stopping K-State’s ball-control offense. That was partially why an anticipated shootout never happened. If KU is going to beat Okie State (or at least play the Cowboys toe-to-toe) they are going to have to maintain control of the ball better than they have all year. That means Pooka Williams needs sizable gains on first and second down to leave more manageable down-and-distance situations for Carter Stanley and the passing game.
Parchment/Robinson Inc. Stanley is going to have to get dialed in with top targets Andrew Parchment and Stephon Robinson to beat the Pokes. Those two can be game-breakers, averaging 14 and 17 yards per catch respectively. Obviously, OSU is vulnerable and has given up large chunks of yards due to fielding a youthful secondary. The Cowboys rank 120th in FBS against the pass, giving up 276 yards per game
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
Yep, get Chuba Hubbard going early and often. You could put this down for every game the Cowboys play. But against the Jayhawks it is even more important due to the fact that KU’s defense is ranked way down at No. 126 (out of 130) in the FBS due to 235 rushing yards per game allowed. Hubbard, who is averaging an FBS-best 178 yards per game (33 yards more than anyone else), will help OSU’s ball-control offense win the day.
Who WON'T be there. Oklahoma State is plenty powerful enough, but top wide receiver Dylan Wallace (53 catches, 903 yards) will miss the rest of the season after a torn ACL in practice a few weeks ago. The Cowboys are 17th in the nation in scoring offense and put up 34 points on TCU despite being a little short-handed. Look for Braydon Johnson (11 catches, 268 yards) and Jordan McCray (13, 176) to get targeted more this week as the Cowboys' offense will look to expose Kansas' pass defense (84th nationally)
Sanders in the comfort zone. Quarterback Spencer Sanders, the former Texas Gatorade Player of the Year, has been solid if not spectacular so far for the Orange & Black. He has hit on just over 62 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns but also 11 interceptions. Just a freshman, his future looks really bright. This is one of those games where he will lean on Hubbard and the running game but will also be able to get comfortable with the passing offense. Look for Sanders to go through more progressions and try to stretch the field a bit more than usual.
The last time the Jayhawks got a road win over a ranked opponent was in 2007 when they beat No. 24 Kansas State. Getting a win over No. 25 Oklahoma State in their stadium is going to be a tall order.
Kansas is a program that has a pretty low bar set for itself. Most programs that saw a four-win season would see that as an apocalyptic ending of the world. But the Jayhawks? Shoot, a fourth win would be enough to burn couches on fraternity row. This could be their best chance to get their first four-plus-win season since 2009. So load up the fire extinguishers... just in case.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 31, Kansas 28
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.