The annual Sunflower Showdown takes place Saturday night when the Kansas State Wildcats host the Kansas Jayhawks in the regular season finale for both bowl-bound teams.
Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 13
Kansas head coach Lance Leipold and his staff will try to set the record straight after dropping two straight games and five of their last six — including a 55-14 loss at home to Texas last week. A win for Kansas (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) will put them above .500 this season, something the program hasn’t reached since 2008. on a new contract that runs until 2029. This means the in-demand coach whose name has been linked to several high-profile vacancies should not be going anywhere anytime soon.
Kansas State head coach Chris Kleeman, whose name also appears in these job postings, and his Wildcats (8-3, 6-2) can secure their spot in the Big 12 Championship Game with a home win (or a loss by Texas to Baylor at Friday). They are also No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with their only three losses to other ranked teams (TCU, Tulane, Texas). A win also gives K-State nine wins, the first since 2016 when Bill Synder was at the helm.
The Wildcats have dominated this series for over a decade, racking up 13 consecutive wins over the Jayhawks. Kansas’ last win in Manhattan was way back in 2007
Kansas at No. 12 Kansas State
Kick-off: Saturday, November 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Live stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: State of Kansas -12
Tickets: From $190 on SITickets.com*
When Kansas has the ball
The Jayhawks brought back starting quarterback Jalon Daniels last week after he missed five games due to a shoulder injury. Daniels was considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender before the injury, as he is one of the more capable and dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Almost everything about the Kansas offense changes with Daniels handling the controls – including how you defend it.
Jayhawk’s rushing charge is led by Devin Neal, who has put in a great 2022 season. Neal has 1,002 yards on the ground this season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and has found the end zone seven times. He may find more running room on Saturday with Daniels’ presence in the lineup, forcing the defense to account for two elite runners.
When Daniels appears to be throwing, he has four very capable passcatchers to aim for. Luke Grimm, Quentin Skinner and Lawrence Arnold combined for 96 catches for 1,415 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Mason Fairchild hauled in 25 balls for 322 yards and five touchdowns. Kansas does a very good job in that regard of spreading the ball around. If it’s sane, the offense clicks and it’s hard to stop.
When the state of Kansas has the ball
Will Howard replaced the injured Adrian Martinez at quarterback and performed as well as anyone could have wished. He completes 64.1 percent of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. It doesn’t hurt that Howard had starting experience before Martinez came over from Nebraska, so there’s an element of familiarity in the group that everyone has benefited from.
Deuce Vaughn is simply one of the best running backs and more exciting players in the country. Vaughn has piled 1,148 yards on the ground this season and added 266 as a receiver while scoring a total of nine touchdowns. He’s a big game to come, and his presence – as well as his size – highlights the opposing defense. He can be hard to find – especially in the fencing game – and that often gives him an extra step that he really doesn’t need given his speed in the open field.
Like Kansas, the Wildcats do a very good job of distributing the ball to several receivers in the passing play. In addition to Vaughn, four other players have 25 or more receptions. Malik Knowles is the target of choice, with 44 grabs and 669 yards per year. Kade Warner has also emerged as a playmaker. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five. Phillip Brooks is perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. He’s built like Vaughn and has the kind of speed and agility that makes him a threat to score on every play.
With a week and a half of football practice under his belt, Daniels has the ability to bring this game closer than the spread would suggest. This is a rivalry game between two emerging programs led by two of the best head coaches in college football. Look for a fundamentally solid, clean game that boils down to allowing the team’s stars to make the biggest plays at key moments. This really is one of those games where the old cliché of “throw the records out the window” sums it up. This should be a lot of fun.
Prediction: Kansas State 31, Kansas 27
Podcast: Week 13 Preview, Predictions, Picks Against the Spread, Breakdown of the Latest CFB Playoff Rankings, and Coaching News and Rumors
— Written by JP Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher report. He is a three-time winner of the FWAA writing contest. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
*Price from publication.