'Cats and 'Dogs collide in Starkville
This will be the second year in a row Kansas State and Mississippi State hook up, this time being played down in StarkVegas. Last year the Bulldogs were eight-point favorites in Manhattan and ended up taking a 31-10 decision.
The legendary Bill Snyder retired after last season, but his fingerprints are still all over this program, particularly in the early schedule. The Wildcats opened with breezy wins over FCS opponent Nicholls State and MAC member Bowling Green by a combined 101-14 under new head coach Chris Klieman. The Bulldogs are also 2-0 but have had sterner tests in beating Louisiana and Southern Miss.
And of course, it goes without saying that us college football fans are all geeked over another early-season Big 12 vs. SEC showdown, though not the same scale of LSU-Texas.
Kansas State at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Mississippi State -7.5
When Kansas State Has the Ball
The Wildcats have been a dynamic offensive machine so far. Again, we're talking about FCS Nicholls State and MAC bottom-feeder Bowling Green, but starting QB Skylar Thompson is hitting on 74 percent of his passes with 363 yards and three touchdowns on his ledger. Behind him, James Gilbert and Jordon Brown are averaging 8.4 and 7.5 yards per carry respectively, giving the Cats some options on the ground. Mississippi State is giving up 387 yards per game, so their defense is not up to last year's unit which led the nation at 13.2 points per game allowed. Kansas State is a team that should be able to take advantage of the star power the Bulldogs' defense lost from last season.
Normally, time of possession can be a misleading stat. But in the case of KSU, it's been a mark of domination as they've averaged 42 minutes of possession per game so far. If they can get somewhat close to that and control the clock then that means Klieman's charges are having a lot of success and mixing up their running and passing game. Bowling Green came into the Little Apple with an up-tempo offense that had scored 46 points in week one but only held the ball for 17:08 against the Wildcats.
Who will win the turnover battle? Mississippi State's defense has now forced at least one turnover in 18 straight games. Through two games the Bulldogs have recovered four fumbles and recorded three interceptions. The Wildcats have only suffered one fumble thus far and have been turnover-free through the air. Something has got to give here, you'd think. But if the Cats can take care of the ball as they have the first two games, this one can become a toss-up.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
The big question is, will Tommy Stevens play? The Penn State transfer QB has been a real find for this Bulldog offense. Stevens showed up this past summer having already played in Joe Moorhead's system while at PSU and through two games he's 29-of-40 for 341 yards with four touchdowns. But he left the Southern Miss game at the end of the first half due to a shoulder injury. Moorhead says he is officially "day to day" for now. Freshman Garrett Shrader spelled Stevens and went 7-for-11 for 75 yards.
While Stevens has been great, running back Kylin Hill has been greater, if you will. Hill could be emerging into being a featured back after running for 734 yards a year ago in the shadow of dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Hill exploded for 197 yards vs. Louisiana and then 123 yards vs. Southern Miss (on just 14 carries). A very versatile runner, on one 22-yard scamper vs. the Golden Eagles, Hill showcased his speed by shooting through a hole in the scrum, then busted through what looked like a sure tackle and finally leaping over a defender before going out of bounds.
The showdown between the MSU offensive line and K-State's front seven should be a beauty. Last year the Bulldogs ran all over the Wildcats to the tune of 384 yards, averaging a stunning 9.8 yards per carry. MSU features an O-line that averages 335 pounds. But KSU's front seven (including the nickel back) is stout and returns six starters.
As mentioned above, last year's blowout win for Mississippi State was pretty ugly, outgaining Kansas State 538-213. K-State should be pretty amped up for this one considering their imminent improvement and since the Bulldogs should be falling off a bit from last year. The Maroons are 3-0 vs. KSU and 13-1 vs. non-conference opponents over the last three years. This is old hat for them.
If this one was back in Manhattan again, I'd like K-State's chances a little bit better. But with the bastion of cowbells behind them, the Bulldogs will find just enough inspiration to pull out another one.
Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Kansas State 31
— 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.