MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State should know by the time it kicks off against Iowa State on Saturday night whether the No. 19 Wildcats are playing for an opportunity to defend their crown in the Big 12 championship game.
After a convoluted and controversial tiebreaker system forced the league to issue multiple clarifications the past few weeks, irking Kansas State fans in particular, the race basically boils down to this: The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) need to beat the Cyclones at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and have Texas lose or Oklahoma and Oklahoma State lose.
The Longhorns play Texas Tech and the Sooners face TCU on Friday, while the Cowboys play BYU on Saturday afternoon.
“We don't pay any attention to it,” Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said. “We've navigated it really well the past two weeks, when everyone was trying to stuff it down our throat, whatever it was. And all our guys did was go out and win two good games.”
Regardless of the championship scenario, Klieman said, the plan is to make that three in a row.
It won't be easy against the Cyclones (6-5, 5-3), who have bounced back from a 2-3 start to win four of their past six games. The two losses came against Kansas and Oklahoma by a combined 17 points, and the Cyclones gave the Longhorns a scare last week, trailing by seven in the fourth quarter of a 26-16 defeat.
“I know the way Matt (Campbell) coaches. I know the way Matt develops guys at Iowa State," Klieman said. “They never beat themselves. They're sound in what they do. They're really good on special teams. They make you earn everything, and then they can methodically put drives together and keep your defense on the field.”
Campbell said the admiration goes both ways, and he relishes the chance to play a Top 25 team to finish the regular season.
“To me, you want to play big games in November and you want to test yourself," Campbell said. “It's just building equity in terms of how and the process of what it takes to win these games. I wouldn't want it any other way. You want to play great teams, and you want to measure who you are and where we are as a football team.”
The Wildcats will be honoring 25 seniors in their regular-season finale, including quarterback Will Howard, who has taken his play to another level over the past five weeks. He has 14 touchdown throws and just two picks over that span.
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME
The Wildcats have dominated the series known as “Farmageddon” over the past 15 years, winning 12 of the games dating to a 38-30 victory in Manhattan in 2008. But the Cyclones have been more competitive since Campbell took over, winning two of the past three. That includes a 33-20 victory the last time the schools met at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
PURDY GOOD, OR EVEN EXCELLENT
Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht has thrown for 2,444 yards with 17 touchdown passes this season, breaking both school records for a freshman. The previous marks were set by current 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in 2018.
“He's been really grounded,” Campbell said. “He knows what he's about. He's not trying to be anybody else. He's trying to be the best version of himself. That trait has allowed him to navigate through some tough things.”
Kansas State has forced 16 turnovers over its last six games, including three — two interceptions and a fumble — that proved to be critical in its 31-27 win over rival Kansas last weekend. But the Cyclones have some ballhawks of their own, such as cornerback Jeremiah Cooper, who is tied for second nationally with five picks despite missing two games to injury.
SPIN IT, D.J.
D.J. Giddens needs 39 yards rushing to give Kansas State a 1,000-yard rusher in three straight seasons; Deuce Vaughn, now with the Dallas Cowboys, had the previous two. Giddens ran 21 times for 102 yards and a TD last week against Kansas, and his ability to gain yards even when the Jayhawks knew he was coming helped the Wildcats run out the clock on their win.
“D.J. just battles, and he's playing really well,” Klieman said. “He's doing what I thought he would do as far as the season goes on, he's getting better and better. Excited to see him to continue to gain confidence.”