This year's Kansas State-Kansas showdown was all set to be played this weekend without much fanfare and was going to receive probably just a hint of notice from the national college football media machine.
Then last Saturday happened.
The Wildcats ambushed No. 5-ranked Oklahoma's college football playoff plans with a stunning 48-41 upset. And the Jayhawks won a bizarre, last-play, come-from-behind 37-34 win over Texas Tech to bolster its season and keep a glimmer of hope for their postseason chances.
Usually, games this big in this state in the month of November involve the use of a pumpkin-sized round ball being played inside Phog Allen Fieldhouse. That's what makes this year's Cats-Jayhawks showdown so fun. Grab a fork, let's dig in.
Kansas State at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -6
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Thompson has become a stud. Wildcat QB Skylar Thompson is coming into his own as a dual-threat, especially in the red zone and on 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations with his scrambling ability. Planting a "spy" on the Wildcat quarterback will be a huge key. Of course, missed tackles and poor angles by the KU defense has been a big bugaboo in their five losses. So some fundamental defense and form tackling is paramount in this game for KU.
Ball control. This is a Wildcat specialty. KSU is fifth nationally in time of possession, holding the ball for almost 35 minutes per game. Running backs James Gilbert and Jordon Brown combined with Thompson for 207 rushing yards and five touchdowns vs. Oklahoma. Their galloping through the huge running lanes the O-line provided allowed the Purple Gang to control the ball for over 38 minutes of that game. Also, KU's defense is 123rd in rushing defense, giving up 223 yards per game. So, you know... run Cats, run.
Jump on ‘em quickly. In all six of their games against FBS opponents, the Jayhawks have been outscored 73-17 in the first quarter. They can't mess with fire in this one, any big lead by K-State and the Jayhawks will find themselves being taken to the woodshed because the Wildcats have the run game to squeeze the life out of them. You've been warned KU.
When Kansas Has the Ball
Brent Dearmon keeps 'em chuggin' along. This is the third game that youthful assistant Dearmon will be the O-coordinator for KU. Les Miles assigned him the OC gig on Oct. 6, after the 45-20 loss to Oklahoma. Since then the Rock Chalkers have scored 48 points vs. Texas and 37 vs. Texas Tech and put up a combined for 1,096 yards, the third-best output in the country in that span. Keep an eye on blossoming WR Stephon Robinson, who has 18 catches for 384 yards and six TDs in the last three games.
Get Carter Stanley to use his feet. Odd stat: K-State allows opposing quarterbacks to average 6.8 yards per rush, which is last in the Big 12. Stanley is not the runner that Skylar Thompson is but the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week is more than capable of doing damage with his legs (he had nine carries for 65 yards vs. Texas Tech). But here's the thing, Stanley has also gone 53-of-84 for 725 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games. So use your feet when you can, yes, but also stay with the hot hand.
Big third downs. There is a huge discrepancy in what happens on third down between these two teams. K-State is the second-best defensive team in the country on third down, holding opponents to just 25 percent. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks lay out a welcome mat for their opponents, allowing more than half (51 percent) of third downs to be converted, which is 128th out of 130 FBS teams.
Oh man, this game has "trap door" written all over it for the Wildcats. Coming off that big win, they've got to have a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game on their minds from here on out. But beware of daydreaming too much or else they'll go from the big house to the outhouse in no time flat. Keep in mind, three ranked Big 12 teams lost last Saturday to unranked teams. Will the trend continue?
The Jayhawks were an identical 3-5 last year but then went on a bad November skid to finish 3-9. This is a more mature and more confident team this time around. Penalties and turnovers killed their chance at an upset of the Wildcats in last year's 21-17 escape, their 10th straight loss in the series. If KU can rein that in this week, we're in for another big upset in the Big 12.
Prediction: Kansas 27, Kansas State 24
— 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.