No. 8 Stanford hosts Kansas State on Friday in an attractive undercard matchup of Kickoff Week. The reigning Rose Bowl champion Cardinal and returning Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey have their eyes set on the College Football Playoff. To preview the game, college football reporters David Lombardi and Mitch Sherman offer insight:
How to beat Stanford: It’s a two-part job. First, make the Cardinal one-dimensional on offense. This typically involves focusing resources on McCaffrey and daring Stanford to move the ball through the air. This is obviously a gamble, but the Cardinal will be breaking in two new quarterbacks, so it’s worth a try. Second, on the other side of the ball, it’s imperative to neutralize Stanford’s pass rush. The Cardinal’s secondary is too talented to beat if there’s pressure in the quarterback’s face. -- Lombardi
How to beat Kansas State: Take advantage of their youth. It sounds like an odd plan, with 17 starters back for the Wildcats, including nine on defense. But numbers are deceiving. K-State will start 12 freshmen or sophomores, including a pair of redshirt freshmen on the offensive line. QB Jesse Ertz, the Week 1 starter a season ago, has not thrown a collegiate pass. Freshman defensive tackle Trey Dishon earned a starting nod. In a road environment at night against the reigning Pac-12 champs, K-State’s inexperienced players are ripe to suffer from a case of nerves. -- Sherman
How Stanford beats you: When the Cardinal are at their best, they’re extremely balanced. The power run sets up devastating play-action chances. If a defense ever figures those two out, Stanford’s quarterback can administer a dagger with his own legs. Defensively, the Cardinal win when their front is rigid. Thinness along the line hurt this team last season, but it looks to have renewed depth there now. -- Lombardi
How K-State beats you: With the third phase, as the Wildcats describe it. Kansas State has scored 101 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, the most nationally. Its 40 kickoff- and punt-return touchdowns since 2005 lead the nation. When scoring on special teams the past 26 years, Kansas State is 56-17. Additionally, Matthew McCrane and Nick Walsh rate as the Big 12’s best kicker-punter duo. If the Wildcats find a way to exploit the overlooked aspects of a game, look out; they’ve got you right where they want you. -- Sherman
Stanford X factor: Quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst will both play Friday, but Burns, the starter, is expected to see the majority of the snaps. He assumes Kevin Hogan’s old role of managing the offense and providing a credible counter-threat to McCaffrey. If Burns succeeds in that role, Stanford will be next to impossible to beat at home. -- Lombardi
K-State X factor: The wizard with white hair on the sideline. Coach Bill Snyder regularly finds a way to defy the odds with his measured and disciplined approach to teaching the game. For five straight seasons, Kansas State has been first or second in the Big 12 in limiting penalty yards. Last season, it converted 52 of 55 red zone opportunities to lead the league. Simply put, Kansas State almost never beats itself, and Snyder, who is 22-2 in openers, gets credit. -- Sherman
Sherman: Ertz is a promising talent, and he’ll have good days in 2016. I’m just not expecting to see one of them Friday night, especially as left tackle Scott Frantz and left guard Tyler Mitchell, both redshirt freshmen, protect his blind side. K-State will devise a solid plan to slow McCaffrey, but he’ll get loose a time or two as the Cardinal avoid another Week 1 debacle to win 35-17.
Lombardi: This might be the most talent Stanford has ever had at the skill positions and in the secondary. Can the Cardinal match that with sturdiness at quarterback and in the trenches? Huge questions such as this make Week 1 the wild card that it is, but expect the Cardinal to roll at home 41-24.