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October 27, 2011

Week 9 preview in the Big 12

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Kansas State is back among the nation's top 10, but whether the Wildcats truly are back among the nation's elite remains to be seen.

That will be determined in the next four weeks.

THE SCHEDULE
Missouri at Texas A&M, noon
Baylor at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m.
Oklahoma at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m.
Iowa State at Texas Tech, 7 p.m.
Kansas at Texas, 7 p.m.
Clearly, coach Bill Snyder, who in the 1990s transformed the Wildcats from perennial punching bags to national championship contenders, has done another remarkable job in rebuilding the program.

Just three years after coming out of retirement to clean up the mess that former coach Ron Prince made in Manhattan, the Snyder-led Wildcats are just one of eight unbeaten teams in the country.

But are they indeed worthy of their No. 8 position in the BCS standings? Or is that gaudy 7-0 record merely a by-product of good luck and bad opponents?

K-State's first seven opponents are a combined 23-25, and five of the Wildcats' victories have been by seven or fewer points.

But their next four opponents -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas -- are currently ranked and a combined 22-5.

"Every week is tough for us," Snyder said early this week. "Certainly the remainder of our schedule is extremely complex. Those are extremely talented football teams -- not that the ones we've played haven't been, but they seem to be the ones that carry higher rankings that are well-deserved. The schedule gets tougher."

Last season, the Wildcats started 5-1, then lost four of their next five. Yet there definitely is something different about these Wildcats. They're clearly much better than they were a year ago.

[Going bowling: Rivals.com 2011 bowl projections]

In 2010, Kansas State surrendered 231.4 rushing yards per game to rank 119th in the nation in rushing defense. After a few personnel moves -- most notably adding linebacker Arthur Brown, a transfer from Miami -- the Wildcats are allowing 93.9 yards per game and are ranked 13th this season.

In the wide-open Big 12, a league that features five teams ranked among the nation's top 20 in passing offense, they're content with an old-school approach to success. They run the football, control the clock and don't beat themselves.

Behind quarterback Collin Klein and tailback John Hubert, K-State is second in the Big 12 in rushing offense and leads the nation in time of possession. They've committed just seven turnovers and don't get many penalties.

"It's just kind of the nature of the way we do things," Snyder said. "We think it's a good thing if the ball is in our hands, and the longer period of time you have it in your hands, maybe, that's a good thing.

"Possession time is a positive thing if you do something with the possession time. In other words, if you put points on the board with it, then it's a positive thing. That's certainly what we'd like to be able to do. We think fewer bad things can happen when you've got possession of the ball if you're not turning it over."

The Wildcats also have shown a knack for making a defensive play when it's needed most -- whether it's a game-saving goal-line stand in a 28-24 win over Miami or forcing pivotal turnovers in a 36-35 win over Baylor or a 41-34 win over Texas Tech.

In the coming weeks, K-State will be tested by some of the highest-scoring offensive teams in the country. The Wildcats must prove they can continue to be opportunistic on defense. Their offense must show it can keep up.

If it can, the Wildcats will prove without question they're back among the nation's elite.

If not, it will be obvious that while they're back, they still have a ways to go.

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Best matchup: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden vs. Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. Big-time matchups of prolific passers are common occurrences in the Big 12. This clash of Heisman hopefuls is the best dual of the week. Weeden averages 348.0 passing yards per game to rank sixth in the nation. Griffin averages 325.0 to rank seventh. Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency, while Weeden is 17th. Both are facing defenses that have been vulnerable against the pass.

Player on the spot: Oklahoma K Michael Hunnicutt. Hunnicutt, a freshman, missed two field goals in last week's loss to Texas Tech, including a 28-yard try in the fourth quarter. Coach Bob Stoops said Hunnicutt remains the Sooners' No. 1 kicker going into this week's game against undefeated Kansas State, which has posted five wins by seven or fewer points. If this one is also close, Hunnicutt may be called upon for another high-pressure kick. If he falters again, the Sooners can look to Jimmy Stevens, who is 4-of-4 on field goal attempts this season.

Keep an eye on: Texas Tech QB Seth Doege. Folks in Lubbock are touting him as a Heisman contender, and they may have a point. He threw for 441 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Red Raiders to a 41-38 upset of Oklahoma on Saturday, and he also has thrown for more than 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in six of seven games. Doege is second in the nation in passing (372.6 ypg) and on Saturday faces Iowa State, which is 112th in the nation in total defense.

Numbers game: Oklahoma State is ranked 103rd in the nation in total defense, but that statistic is misleading. True, the Cowboys are allowing an average of 431.8 yards per game, but those figures are somewhat skewed. For example, Oklahoma State allowed an average of 413.7 yards in its first three games, against Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona and Tulsa. But most of those yards were gained in the second half after the Cowboys already had taken significant leads. Oklahoma State allowed an average of 135.6 yards in the first half of those games and led all three by at least 21 points at halftime. In addition, Oklahoma State allowed Texas A&M just 170 yards in the second half, when the Cowboys rallied from a 17-point deficit for a 30-29 victory. Furthermore, Oklahoma State is second in the nation with 24 forced turnovers. The Cowboys have forced at least three turnovers in each of their past five games.

Quotes of the week

"I don't read the paper and I don't go on the Internet. I can only imagine what they're saying about me." - Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, whose system has generated fewer than 20 points in three of the past four games

"Most of us seniors have been around long enough to know that the rankings can be here today and gone tomorrow. We have to keep the guys focused. It's just a number." - Oklahoma State SS Markelle Martin, on the Cowboys moving up to No. 3 in the BCS standings

"They've played maybe the toughest schedule in the country to this point. And I don't think people have talked about that enough." - Texas coach Mack Brown, on Kansas, which has lost five in a row

[Expert picks: Week 9 predictions]

Poll watch: More than half of the Big 12's 10 teams are ranked in the BCS standings. Oklahoma State has moved up to No. 3 and is in control of its own destiny to reach the BCS national championship game. But that will require beating three teams that also are ranked -- No. 8 Kansas State, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 20 Texas Tech. Despite last week's loss to Texas Tech, Oklahoma could get back into the national championship picture by winning the rest of its games. Also in the BCS standings are No. 16 Texas A&M and No. 24 Texas.

Etc.: When facing third down, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III has completed 82 percent of his passes (19-of-23). He's thrown for 13 first downs and three touchdowns on third downs. True freshman Jared Barnett has been named Iowa State's starting quarterback over Steele Jantz. K-State junior QB Collin Klein is coming off the strongest performance of his career; he rushed for four touchdowns and threw for a career-high 195 yards against Kansas. Klein has accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of the past six games. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last week, may be able to play against Kansas State. LB Tom Wort (concussion) and DT Casey Walker (thumb) sat out last week, but are expected to play. C Ben Habern (broken forearm) also has not been ruled out this week. Texas A&M has won nine of its past 10 conference games, which marks its most successful streak since the formation of the league in 1996. A win over Iowa State would make Texas Tech bowl-eligible for the 19th consecutive season. Oklahoma junior QB Landry Jones recorded his seventh career 400-yard passing game last week. Texas is averaging 181.8 rushing yards per game, which is a significant improvement from a year ago, when the Longhorns averaged 150.5. Texas A&M CB Coryell Judie (hamstring) is expected to play this week. DE Tony Jerod-Eddie is slowed by a sprained ankle, but could play. Both of Baylor's losses have come on the road against currently ranked opponents (No. 12 Kansas State, No. 16 Texas A&M). The Bears hope to break that trend on the road against No. 4 Oklahoma State. Iowa State LB Jake Knott is playing with a bad shoulder and arm. He had a two-season-low three tackles in last week's loss to Texas A&M. Junior WR D.J. Beshears needs 96 return yards to set a Kansas single-season record for kickoff-return yardage. He also needs 327 yards to set the school's career record for kickoff-return yardage. Missouri DT Terrell Resonno is expected to return to action after sitting out last week's game with a sprained knee, but K Grant Ressel is questionable with a strained right hip flexor. Kansas State's Tyler Lockett has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the past two games. Oklahoma State faces Baylor seeking to post its eighth consecutive victory over an opponent from the state of Texas. Texas Tech is 2-0 in games delayed by weather. The Red Raiders defeated Oklahoma on Saturday after a 94-minute delay because of lightning. Their 59-13 victory over New Mexico on Sept. 17 was delayed 51 minutes. Texas A&M senior WR Jeff Fuller reached 200 career receptions in last week's win over Iowa State. Missouri RB Henry Josey has exceeded 100 yards in four of the past five games and continues to lead the Big 12 in rushing with 855 yards. Oklahoma State WR Hubert Anyiam is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken foot.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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