It's seemed like every week we're in some climactic showdown to determine the fate of the conference championship, doesn't it (Texas Tech excepted, of course)? The Frogs have run the gauntlet so far, and with just one major hurdle to go find themselves in prime position for not only the Big 12 championship, but national title position as well- on the other side, KSU has only just started their gauntlet run, but their start was a good one, winning in Norman for the second time in as many tries (no small feat). With both teams very much in a "Win and you're in" mindset, we turn to Jon Morse, owner of the excellent Kansas State blog Bring on the Cats for some information ahead of Saturday's blackout showdown.
Hawk: So, TCU vs. Kansas State, winner takes a stranglehold on the Big 12 championship race- exactly what everyone predicted the Big 12's big championship deciding game would be on Novemer 8th, right? What were your expectations for Kansas State coming into the season, and what's been the biggest surprise so far?
Jon: It's a 50-50 answer. In May, I predicted three losses: Auburn, Oklahoma, and Baylor. By the time the season rolled around, though, I figured Oklahoma was a win. So you might say beating Oklahoma was a surprise, or you might say no surprises at all, and K-State's right on schedule. Man, I hope this week won't upend that...
Hawk: A rising tide of optimism as the season starts? Sounds like another blogger I know. Jake Waters seems like a typical Snyder recruit- low star value junior college transport that sets the world on fire when he gets to Kansas State. Tell me about the Maxwell semifinalist and what's made him so effective this year after sharing the duties last year?
Jon: A lot of people seem to take this as an insult, because it implies that the quarterback isn't talented. But Jake Waters is a game manager extraordinaire, and the reality is that you can't BE that guy if you're not talented. To be able to effectively manage a game against big-time competition, you've got to be able to move. You've got to have an arm. You've got to have accuracy, and you've got to be able to think. And even then, Waters will occasionally wow you with a 50-yard run or a beautifully arcing spiral right into the arms of a covered receiver. Yeah, I'll take that.
As for what's made him effective, I honestly think it's simply the whole "not sharing the duties" part, although he did learn some valuable lessons last year regarding "holding onto the ball" and "not throwing interceptions".
Hawk: Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller has had a fairly quiet year on the stat sheet for the Wildcats after a first team All-Big 12 season last year, are opposing teams scheming against him better or has he taken a step back this season?
Jon: Oh, Mueller's fine. It's partly that he's been getting extra attention, and partly that he's got great partners on the defensive line now. Travis Britz and Jordan Willis have really come into their own this year, and Valentino Coleman (occasionally being spelled by stud JUCO steal Terrell Clinkscales now that Clink has gotten the hang of things) has been a steady disruption as well. So no, Mueller hasn't been putting up the gaudy numbers, but they're actually getting spread around to the other guys -- partly because he's helping them get to the backfield.
Hawk: Who are the two players on offense and defense for Kansas State that you think will have the biggest impact on whether the Wildcats win or lose in Fort Worth?
Jon: Offense: Tyler Lockett and Deante Burton, and you're now saying, "Huh?" Lockett, of course, is always key. His one-on-one battle with Kevin White will go a long way toward deciding this game. If Lockett does to White what he did to Jason Verrett last year, game over. But Burton's even more of a key, because I imagine that with White on Lockett, TCU will then key on Curry Sexton and try to limit his seemingly unstoppable "move the chains" machinery. That means Burton, who has actually started to produce the last two weeks, has to stand up this week and present himself as a viable threat to catch the ball.
Defense: Morgan Burns and Dylan Schellenberg. Both of these guys have been up and down, but they've both been nails the last couple of games. They are exploitable, but when they're on their game they're assets. They have to be assets Saturday or TCU's going to gash the defense.
Hawk: Bill Snyder has turned in yet another amazing coaching job this season, and if he wins out in the conference he'll be on the cusp of the one accolade that has eluded him in his career so far- national champion. How would you rate this Kansas State team against his other great teams, and has he given any indication that he may be winding down his career?
Jon: I am not insulting or downgrading this team when I say this: This is not the best team Bill Snyder has coached, and it's not even close. The 1997-2000 iteration of the Wildcats was just out of this world, and by all rights one of those teams should have won Bill a national championship.
But in a larger sense, I think this is really a question of 2014 vs 2012, and in that respect I think this team is better. No, there is no Collin Klein around to singlehandedly will the team to victory. There is no (near) 1000-yard back in the backfield. There is no Arthur Brown captaining the defense. It's just that everyone is good and capable, assuming Good Burns and Good Schellenberg are on the field; there just isn't anyone out there that a K-State fan is constantly screaming at for making mistakes or getting beaten.
Hawk: The last time KSU came to TCU it was absolutely wild, with the national title contending wildcats coming into a blackout night game against a fired up Frog defense (and pathetic offense). This year there are playoff contenders on both sides of the field- who do you like in this one, and how do you see the rest of the season playing out for the Wildcats?
Jon: As far as Saturday, I feel like K-State is going to win another cardiac game. Field goal difference. I have no idea whether that's going to be 20-17 or 41-38, though. The rest of the season... right now, Bill Connelly's got K-State as a solid favorite to win at West Virginia and has the game in Waco as a near toss-up. A win Saturday would solidify that and give me confidence that the Wildcats will win out. A loss turns West Virginia into a toss-up and re-establishes Baylor as a clear favorite in December. So psychologically this may be the difference between 11-1 and 8-4. It's a huge game.
But hey, no matter who wins Saturday, we'll all be purple the rest of the way, right?
Hawk: That much is assured. Our thanks to Jon Morse, and be sure to check out Bring on the Cats to see how the other half is feeling ahead of Saturday's game. I'll also have my answers to Jon's questions up over there before too long, so check it out!