Oklahoma is the king of Big 12 football, with 10 league titles since 2001, including the past two and the first 9-0 regular season of conference play in Big 12 history last fall. This week, we’re looking at the contenders to dethrone Oklahoma in 2017.
The series begins with the Kansas State Wildcats.
How the Wildcats can beat Oklahoma: K-State has pulled it off twice in recent seasons, defeating the Sooners 31-30 in 2014 and 24-19 in 2012, both times in Norman. Since the last KSU win in this lopsided series, Oklahoma has won 55-0 and 38-17.
In all four of the games mentioned above, the Sooners outgained K-State and received solid play at quarterback -- be it from Landry Jones, Trevor Knight or Baker Mayfield. What happened, then, in the two Kansas State wins? Notably, it did not commit a turnover and forced five.
Kansas State, even in 2017 with the home field against Oklahoma and a slightly smaller talent deficit than the past two seasons, still can’t stand toe to toe with the Sooners and beat them at their game. The Wildcats need to be opportunistic, as in 2012, when they scored an early defensive touchdown, and in 2014, when a late goal-line stand led to a short Oklahoma field-goal miss that could have won it.
What’s holding them back? Pretty simply, the inability to stop Mayfield. Oklahoma’s record-setting quarterback has completed 45 of 58 over the past two years against Kansas State for 628 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. Another such performance as a senior from Mayfield would keep K-State from victory. Mayfield does not have the services this season of Sterling Shepherd (gone after 2015) and Dede Westbrook at receiver, or Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon at running back. Inevitably, though, players nearly as talented will fill their former roles for Oklahoma. The Wildcats must keep the Oklahoma skill players under control. But first, they must focus on slowing Mayfield, who makes his teammates better with his command and precision behind the best offensive line in the Big 12. Conversely, Kansas State enters next season with the best secondary in the league, led by cornerbacks Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed and bolstered by the addition of elite juco signee Elijah Walker. For K-State to turn the tables on Oklahoma, this group needs to hold its own against Mayfield.
X-factor: In 2012 Kansas State held the football for nearly 10 minutes longer than Oklahoma. Three years later, Oklahoma had a similar time-of-possession edge over Kansas State. It made for a 60-point swing. Time of possession is a meaningless stat in most Big 12 games, but not in those that involve the Wildcats. Few teams in the sport need to hold the football in order to win more than Kansas State. And to hold the ball, they’ve got to move the chains, preferably with a solid ground game. K-State has rushed for just 175 yards over the past two games against Oklahoma, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per attempt. In the two wins against Oklahoma in the past five years, the Wildcats rushed for a total of 373 yards and averaged 4.9 per carry. Alex Barnes, after a breakout freshman year, is capable of moving the chains next year when the Sooners visit Manhattan on Oct. 21.