The Big 12 season has been a bit of a doozy so far this year. The Kansas State Wildcats and TCU Horned Frogs have both had a hand in that, with the Wildcats losing their season opener to Arkansas State and the Horned Frogs upsetting Texas last weekend.
For now, both teams come into this matchup with positive momentum. Kansas State is 2-0 in conference play and is starting to look like a serious contender to make the conference championship game. TCU's win over the Longhorns last weekend put the rest of the conference on notice and inserted the Horned Frogs into the title game conversation.
They'll meet in Fort Worth on Saturday in what could end up being a Big 12 Championship Game elimination contest.
Kansas State at TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: TCU -9
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Skylar Thompson is emerging as one of the most capable leaders at quarterback in the Big 12. He has great command of the offense and he takes care of the football. He has accounted for seven touchdowns through three games and is becoming a better pocket passer by the week.
That said, head coach Chris Klieman knows that running the football is key to winning consistently at this level. Because of that — and the explosive potential of the TCU offense — you'll see the Wildcats focus heavily on running the football in order to set the tone, control the tempo, and shorten the game. That means a heavy dose of Deuce Vaughn — both as a runner and on quick dump-off passes. I wouldn't expect to see Kansas State force much down the field until TCU proves it can consistently stop the run and the effectiveness of short passes.
When TCU Has the Ball
Starting quarterback Max Duggan returned to action last week to lead the upset over Texas — doing most of the damage with his legs on two rushing touchdowns. When healthy, Duggan is one of the best quarterbacks in a conference full of good ones. As effective as he was on the ground a week ago, the Horned Frog offense lives and dies with Duggan's arm. Look for TCU to exploit what they view as mismatches in the passing game, forcing the ball downfield to an explosive receiving corps led by Taye Barber.
Head coach Gary Patterson would like this game to look more like a track meet that a boxing match. They'll want to jump out to an early lead and keep the foot on the gas, unlike what Oklahoma did against Kansas State a couple of weeks ago when the Sooners blew a 21-point second-half lead.
I truly believe these are two of the top four teams in the Big 12 this season. It looks like it'll be a tight race, and TCU can't afford another conference loss if they want to make it to the Big 12 Championship Game. The pressure will be squarely on the Horned Frogs at home for that reason. That could benefit a Kansas State team that is both resilient and consistent in its approach. I expect this game to be very close in the first half, perhaps even with a Kansas State lead at halftime. Look for a big play or two from Duggan and Co. in the second half to be what eventually gives TCU the advantage, allowing them to hold on to a hard-fought victory.
Prediction: TCU 31, Kansas State 23
Podcast: Week 6 Preview and Predictions
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Max Duggan photo by Ellman Photography/TCU Athletics)