October 4, 2007

Fritch's Big 12 Tour: Stealing limelight

Sorry, Red River Rivalry. You've got to paddle upstream to catch the two biggest games in the Big 12 this weekend. While Oklahoma and Texas will fight to stay alive in the South hunt, Nebraska and Missouri will meet on better terms in the North standings. But the biggest game could be in Manhattan, where unbeaten Kansas tries to beat a somebody as Kansas State is back on the map and back in the rankings.

K-State was named the national team of the week by the Football Writers Association of America after it cruised to a 41-21 win at No. 7 Texas last weekend to earn its first-ever road win against a Top 10 team.

The Wildcats have been in a similar position before. Coming off a 45-42 upset against the Longhorns at home last season, they were blasted in embarrassing fashion in a 39-20 loss to Kansas in Lawrence.

Sure, the schedule remains the same. But unlike last season…

"We're at home," K-State coach Ron Prince said. "All things are different."

K-State, which rejoined the pillars of the ranked at No. 24 in The Associated Press poll after a three-year absence, has won eight of its last 10 games at home, beating opponents by an average score of 36-16. Kansas cashed in on its in-state rival's mistakes a year ago -- six turnovers, including four by quarterback Josh Freeman -- to claim the Governor's Trophy for the second time in three years. But in five seasons under Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks have hardly enjoyed award-winning performances on the road, going 4-21 overall and 2-19 in the Big 12. They have dropped nine of their last 10 league contests away from Lawrence.

Kansas, which comes off a bye week for the second straight year before facing K-State, is one of eight teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision that will hit the road for the first time this weekend. None of the other seven have been as dominant. None of the other seven enjoyed such home hospitality, either, as the Jayhawks battered the likes of Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International by the tune of 214 to 23.

Kansas ranks in the top five in the nation in six major statistical categories, including No. 1 in scoring defense (5.7), No. 1 in kickoff returns (32.7), No. 3 in total offense (552.7), No. 4 in scoring offense (53.5), No. 3 in passing defense (124.0) and No 3 in total defense (218.7). Those impressive numbers could be at risk. Many national experts believe the Jayhawks could be in for a rude awakening in Manhattan, where they haven't left victorious since 1989.

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