It’s gut-check time for Kansas State.
A year after winning the Big 12, the Wildcats are 0-2 in league play. To avoid falling to 0-3 this weekend, they must slow the hottest offense in college football.
With quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown graduated, this was always going to be a rebuilding year. But two weeks into October, K-State already has more losses than it did all of last season.
“It’s definitely not a time to panic,” said wide receiver Kyle Klein, Colin’s younger brother. “Panic has never entered (coach Bill Snyder’s) vocabulary. One of these days, if it’s this week or next week, we’re going to come out on top.”
K-State might not be panicking yet. But if they don’t start coming out on top soon, the Wildcats will risk having just their third losing season with Snyder as coach since 1992.
“I hope from an emotional standpoint there’s some anger about being where we are,” Snyder said, “what could have been.”
The good news is that the Wildcats have been in all three games they’ve lost, too.
“It’s not like we’re getting over-talented,” defensive tackle Travis Britz said. “We have talent. We’re just making too many mental errors.”
In the opener, K-State allowed FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to drive the length of the field in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown.
In their Big 12 opener, the Wildcats lost three fumbles and didn’t force any turnovers of their own in a 31-21 defeat at Texas.
Then last week, K-State had Oklahoma State on the ropes in Stillwater. But quarterback Daniel Sams turned the ball over four times, which helped the Cowboys to hold on, 33-29.
“Everybody still has a positive mindset,” safety Dante Barnett said. “We know we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. This could easily be 2-0 football team (in Big 12 play). We know this weekend, we have to go out and respond and win a conference game.”
That won’t be easy.
The Wildcats are 17 ½-point home underdogs to the team that knocked them out of the national championship game last season. And this time, Baylor is looking more and more like a team that could match what K-State accomplished in 2012, and possibly more.
The unbeaten Bears roll into Manhattan averaging almost 50 points in their first halves alone, which, with the exception of Oregon and Florida State, is more than anyone else is averaging in a full game.
“It’s gonna be a challenge,” Britz said, “but I feel like we’re up to it.”
While they’ve been unstoppable offensively, the Bears have yet to go on the road this season. Baylor has never won in Manhattan, either. The Bears, in fact, have only one Big 12 road win (at Kansas in 2011) in their last nine tries. Yet the way Baylor has been piling up points, it will require a Herculean effort by the K-State defense to upset the Bears.
“As long as we run to the football and play K-State defense,” Barnett said, “we can slow them down.”
Dating back to last November, however, nobody has slowed down the Bears -- the Wildcats included. In a 52-24 win over K-State in Waco last year, Baylor racked up 29 first downs and 580 yards of offense.
Last week, the Bears became the first FBS team in 83 years to score 70 points in three consecutive games. But that also provides K-State with an opportunity for a springboard victory that could turn its season around. The same kind of springboard the Bears had after beating the Wildcats last season.
“We have a chance to beat a really good team,” Barnett said. “We say week in, week out, we wanna show what we can do.
“We feel this is a week we can really go out and do it.”