The Kansas State Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks renew their rivalry Saturday in Lawrence in the 118th all-time edition of the Sunflower Showdown.
Kansas State, which won its 12th straight in the series 55-14 last season, enters with the momentum of two consecutive Big 12 wins — a 25-24 come-from-behind victory over Texas Tech Oct. 23 and a 31-12 victory over TCU last week. The Wildcats are 5-3 overall and 2-3 in conference play and need only a win over the rival Jayhawks to become bowl eligible.
Kansas is 1-7 overall with last week’s 55-3 loss to Oklahoma State last week dropping its record to 0-5 in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks haven’t won since Sept. 3, haven’t beaten a Big 12 team since 2019, and haven’t knocked off Kansas State since 2008.
Kansas State at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -24
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Quarterback Skylar Thompson has continued his solid play since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games in September. Thompson has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of his four starts since, including 242 on a season-high 11.5 yards per pass attempt last week in the win over TCU. He has completed 69.9 percent of his passes this season for 1,304 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions, and his 9.8 yards per attempt rank second in the Big 12 and fifth nationally. Thompson hasn’t run much since his return, but he scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the season last week.
Running back Deuce Vaughn has been Thompson's top target and leads the Wildcats with 32 receptions and three touchdowns. Vaughn ranks second to wide receiver Phillip Brooks (27 rec., 360 yds., 2 TDs) with 351 yards. Vaughn has also done most of the heavy lifting in the running game with 704 yards and nine touchdowns on 143 carries. His 109 yards against TCU marked the fourth game this season in which Vaughn passed the century mark.
When Kansas Has the Ball
Quarterback Jason Bean has been one of the most productive offensive players for the Jayhawks this season. In addition to his 1,188 passing yards, six touchdowns, and six interceptions, Bean has 386 rushing yards and two scores on 88 carries. However, Bean was benched in the Oklahoma State loss after going 3-for-10 as a passer for just 10 yards and two interceptions. He also was held to 24 rushing yards on nine attempts. Miles Kendrick saw extended action for the second time in three weeks (he was 4-for-7 for 48 yards and two touchdowns on Oct. 16 against Texas Tech) and completed six of eight pass attempts for 34 yards with one interception, adding 32 rushing yards on nine carries.
Though the quarterback play has been shaky, Kansas has several promising skill position players. Receiver Kwamie Lassiter II leads the Jayhawks with 30 receptions for 357 yards and a touchdown, and Buffalo transfer Trevor Wilson ranks second with 19 catches for 291 yards and a score. Lawrence Arnold (18 rec., 238 yds., 3 TDs) and Luke Grimm (14, 205, 2) have had more luck finding the end zone. And the future star of the bunch is local product and true freshman running back Devin Neal, who has taken over as the primary ball carrier with 443 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 101 carries. Neal ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma on Oct. 23, his second career 100-yard game.
Kansas has shown promise at times under first-year head coach Lance Leipold, but most of the progress has come on the offensive side of the football. The Jayhawks ranks among the nation's worst defenses in a wide variety of metrics, including No. 126 in yards per pass attempt against FBS opponents (9.7), No. 127 in yards per play allowed (7.58), No. 129 in success rate (54.8 percent) filtered for garbage time, and No. 130 in both points per drive (4.45) and Expected Points Added per play (0.412) filtered for garbage time against FBS opponents. By comparison, the K-State defense ranks no worse than 70th in any of those categories.
Leipold is a good coach with a great track record, and he will eventually lead the Jayhawks to a Big 12 victory. He may even snap the team's losing streak in the Sunflower Showdown. A rivalry game at home is a great spot, but there's a reason the Wildcats are favored by more than three touchdowns. Based on Kansas' performance to date, it seems highly unlikely the Jayhawks will be able to hold Thompson and Vaughn in check long enough to come out on top.
Prediction: Kansas State 38, Kansas 17
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