Hungrier Wildcats should prevail tonight

By Steve Sell
December 28, 2016

The big rub on the Kansas State Wildcats’ football season has been that they haven’t defeated a team with a winning regular-season record.

The Wildcats finished with an 8-4 ledger, 5-3 in the Big 12. The conference losses were to Oklahoma, West Virginia and Oklahoma State (a game they basically had secured until they went conservative in the fourth quarter to blow a double-digit lead). KSU also lost to Stanford, though it played the Cardinal close.

The Wildcats can erase that stigma tonight when they take on SEC member and former Big 12 member Texas A & M in the Texas Bowl. While you’d think the Aggies should have a partisan backing, one reason bowl committees dearly want the Wildcats is because they travel so well and at least 15,000 to 20,000 of the Purple supporters should be on hand.

I think from an emotional standpoint the Wildcats will enter the game much more favorably. They haven’t received an iota of respect nationally, which is normal for understated coach Bill Snyder and his team. 

Meanwhile Texas A & M had much bigger fish to fry at the start of the season as it was considered a Top 10 team, but its hopes dissipated when quarterback Trevor Knight was banged up.

With Knight not 100 percent, the Aggies probably will rely more on their ground game, which should work in favor of Kansas State. The Wildcats’ chief defensive weakness this year was against the pass, but with future NFL’er Jordan Willis leading the way, they can stuff the run.

Offensively, the Wildcats finished the season as a juggernaut. While the rest of the Big 12 basically relied on spread offenses, K-State was old school in that it pounded the ball on the ground behind quarterback Jesse Ertz and a stable of running backs. The best of the bunch is Alex Barnes, whose availability for the game has been questioned but Snyder said this week he expects him to play. Barnes was a runaway freight train late in the year and averaged almost 8 yards a rush.

The Kansas State offensive line, by the end of the year, was regarded as perhaps the best in the conference.

Ertz conjures up memories of Collin Klein, a true run-first quarterback. Ertz really found his form the second half of the season and was close to unstoppable. And he does provide a passing threat at times as the Wildcats have great speed in their receiving corps.

Special teams sometimes can be the difference in a game like this and the Wildcats have a tremendous advantage in the return game. A hallmark of Snyder-coached teams has been their ability to break a game open with special-team scores.

It’s long been said that when Snyder is given a month to prepare, his teams are difficult to beat. However, he’s only 7-10 in bowl games and I’m sure he’d like to get that mark closer to .500 before he’s through.

I think the Wildcats have more invested in this game than the Aggies and they want to show the nation they’re a good football team worthy of Top 25 status.

Prediction: Kansas State 34, Texas A & M 27.