Kansas State, fresh off of a win over Texas last Saturday, looks to get one step closer bo bowl eligibility in Ames, Iowa, when the Wildcats take on Iowa State in Big 12 action. Bill Snyder’s team outlasted the Longhorns at home 24-21 to improve to 4-3 and 2-2 in conference.
Meanwhile the Cyclones have just one win in head coach Matt Campbell’s debut season and are winless in Big 12 play, but this team has come painstakingly close to breaking through. Iowa State has lost three games by no more than a touchdown, including an excruciating, last-second, three-point defeat to undefeated Baylor three weeks ago. A win Saturday would do wonders for Campbell’s rebuilding process, especially coming on Homecoming weekend in Ames.
This is the 100th meeting between these longtime conference foes, with Iowa State holding a slight lead in the all-time series 49-46-4.
Kansas State at Iowa State
Kickoff: Sat., Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports (FSN)
Spread: Kansas State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Red Zone
Both of these teams enter Saturday’s matchup among the nation’s best in red zone offense. Iowa State currently ranks fifth in the FBS and second in the Big 12 in scoring efficiency, putting points on the board in 20-of-21 (95.2 percent) trips inside opponents’ 20-yard line.
Kansas State has fared even better in this statistic, as the Wildcats lead the nation in red zone conversions, scoring on 32 out of 33 (97 percent) trips. Bill Snyder’s team also has done its job in limiting the damage opponents do when they get inside K-State’s 20-yard line, ranking 37th nationally in red zone defense.
2. Special Teams
Iowa State doesn’t get much attention for the small steps the program has already made in head coach Matt Campbell’s first season, mainly because of the lack of noticeable improvement in the win column. However, one area in which the Cyclones have excelled this season is special teams.
Punt return specialist Trevor Ryen currently ranks fifth nationally at 16.3 yards per punt return, while kickoff returner Kene Nwangwu is third in the Big 12 (and 37th in the FBS) as he’s averaging 25.1 yards per return.
However, Kansas State’s kick coverage teams rank among the best in the nation, so this could be an interesting matchup to watch. The Wildcats have been particularly sting against punt returners, holding them to just 2.4 yards per return (1tth in the FBS).
3. First Half “Momentum”
You wouldn’t know it from their 1-6 record, but the Cyclones have managed to make a game of things in nearly every first half of play this season, with most of the damage being done in the final two quarters. Most recently, Iowa State allowed Texas to storm back from a 6-3 first-half deficit with 24 unanswered points as the Longhorns eventually won going away, 27-6. If the Cyclones can keep their first half performance at the levels they've displayed in previous games, the final 30 minutes could get very interesting.
Kansas State, however, knows all too well how to build and keep first-half leads. The Wildcats have scored twice as many points as their opponents in the first and second quarters this season, putting 155 points on the board compared to allowing just 76.
Iowa State’s Matt Campbell would be well-served to model his current rebuilding efforts in Ames after the guy across the field from him this weekend, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. When Snyder arrived in Manhattan, fresh from a lengthy tenure under his mentor former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry, the Wildcats were in the midst of the nation’s longest losing streak and hadn’t seen a winning season in nearly two decades. Under Snyder’s guidance the Wildcats have become a perennial Big 12 stalwart, with their losses this season coming against ranked (at the time or currently) teams: Stanford, West Virginia and Oklahoma.
While Iowa State looks like it’s on the right track under Campbell, it’s just too early to expect the Cyclones to pull out a win over a more veteran and established team like Snyder’s Wildcats.
Prediction: Kansas State 28, Iowa State 21
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently calling Southern California home. Boleyn attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA, is a former Contributing Writer for the Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye and Big Ten alum. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.