Five storylines for No. 18 Texas' game at No. 6 Kansas State on Saturday:
1. Cotton Bowl bound?
Texas wins and it is almost assuredly in the Cotton Bowl. Texas loses and it is almost assuredly in the Cotton Bowl.
So Texas is in high cotton even if it might be in deep water at No. 6 Kansas State. But there always is a chance for an upset. Texas did manage to pull off one of close to this magnitude back in 2010 when it went to No. 5 Nebraska and won. That year the Cornhuskers didn’t prove to be as good as the early-season No. 5 ranking. But this year’s Texas team is significantly better than the one of two seasons ago.
If the Longhorns bust it will be another long offseason of questions, possible assistant coaching changes, quarterback controversy and summer a lot of hot wind blowing out of Belmont and over the Hill Country.
But a win, the first in five games against Kansas State and the first against a top 10 team since 2010, would provide a respite from all the aforementioned. Not only that, it would almost assuredly put Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
2. Backup plan
It doesn’t matter if Case McCoy gets injured and David Ash can’t go. At this point in the season, with this little on the line, Texas is unwilling to burn the redshirt of either of the aforementioned freshmen, Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Instead if McCoy were hurt and Ash were unable to go -- indications are Ash will be able to go -- punter Alex King would come in as the emergency quarterback.
Earlier this season, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin worked briefly with King on three running plays just in case something happened to his top two quarterbacks. King, a former quarterback, will have a couple of more plays throw at him this week.
"It would be very simple," Harsin said of King’s package. "It would be something we wouldn't expect him to go out there and run the whole show or anything like that, by any means."
3. Stopping Klein
Collin Klein is one of the top runners in college football. Not one of the top running quarterbacks, one of the top runners.
The senior has 787 rushing yards, more than anyone on the Texas roster, and 20 rushing touchdowns.
And now Klein has the opportunity to go up against the worst rushing defense in the Big 12. Although Texas has been better of late, it still allowed TCU 217 rushing yards in a 20-13 loss a week ago.
Now Texas has to figure out how to once again shore up its defense against a quarterback how hits harder and is more successful at doing that than any other player Texas has faced.
"He's taken some hits that you can't believe the guy gets up," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "He runs the ball right at you the next play."
"He comes up, you know he's going to run the ball, but he still continues to get yards," said cornerback Quandre Diggs. "Like I say, you got to be physical with those guys. If we out-physical them, I feel like it will be a good game."
4. The eyes have it
Texas has more to deal with than just Klein and the KSU run game. The Wildcats, largely due to Klein’s increased ability in the passing game, have expanded that portion of their offense. That has put another layer of stress on opposing defenses.
"They're great at complementary offense, which means everything they do will look like something else they do," Diaz said. "They'll have a pass off a run."
Or, conversely, run off pass.
"The key is eye discipline," Diaz said. "You have to be locked in with your eyes against them."
5. Injury update
Texas defensive end Alex Okafor has been listed as questionable. But his teammates fully expect Okafor to be on the field against Kansas State. Both defensive tackle Desmond Jackson and Diggs said they strongly believed Okafor would be a part of the defensive plan.
How much Okafor is able to go with his ankle injury is still up in the air. He did come back and play against TCU after injuring the ankle but was clearly slower than he had been and was limping at the end of plays.
Against Kansas State, Texas needs Okafor to protect the edge and force Klein inside to the heart of the defense. While the inside run has been a killer for Texas this year, linebacker Steve Edmond has started to find the gaps more quickly and effectively. Also safety Kenny Vaccaro, when he is not on the slot receiver, can be used as a roaming extra tackler. And it usually takes two to bring Klein down.
Texas could also use Tevin Jackson more at linebacker. Jackson has been used as a third down pass-rushing specialist. But with the season-ending knee injury to Demarco Cobbs, Jackson might be in line for more playing time earlier in series.
"This will be a big week for him in terms of getting better down after down, being a dependable guy in terms of understanding his fit in the gap structure," Diaz said. "We know if he's there, he has an ability to get a guy down and make a play. He's got to prove it play after play."