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Better Know a Big-12 Opponent: the No. 19 Kansas State Wildcats

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We hoped they’d be worse when we scheduled this game.

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NCAA Football: Charlotte at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The School: Kansas State University

Record: 2-0 (0-0 in the Big 12). We know the Wildcats can score 55 points per, but we have no actual idea if they’re actually good since those outbursts came against Central Arkansas and Charlotte (the fledgling football program, and not the female wrestler).

Ranking: No. 18 in the AP Top 25 and Coaches' Poll. Jeff Sagarin has Kansas State rated 19th in his rankings (Vandy dropped from 50th to 57th after walloping Alabama A&M, because computers cannot possibly grasp the power of A&M’s band).

Mascot: The Wildcat. The most cliche of the animal nicknames. Here’s a list of mammals native to Kansas that would have been considerably better choices.

  • Swamp rabbit
  • Nine-banded armadillo
  • Kangaroo rat
  • Pronghorn
  • Least shrew (worse than the lesser shrew!)
  • Least weasel (same joke bonus points!)
  • Southern flying squirrel
  • 13-lined ground squirrel

Tell me even one of those wouldn’t be a better name than “Wildcat.” I’d buy a “Kangaroo Rats” t-shirt in a heartbeat.

Location: Manhattan, Kansas. “The city that’s in bed by 9 p.m.”

Coach: Bill Snyder. Ol’ Bill is 77 years old and has listened to no more than three rap songs start to finish in his lifetime. One was Accidental Racist.

Conference: The Big 12. Remember when the Big 12 was supposed to implode after the rest of the Power 5 Conferences treated it like a Korean convenience store after the Rodney King verdict? Sadly, that didn’t happen. At least we got the dying stars otherwise known as Texas A&M and Missouri football out of it.

All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 0-1. Vandy’s 1984 season started out awesome with non-conference wins over Kansas, Maryland, and Kansas State before a nine-point win at Alabama. The ‘Dores even climbed to No. 19 in the AP Poll...and then set a precedent for the next 24 years of futility by finishing their season on a 1-6 run, losing to 3-8 Tulane along the way.

In the Last 20 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 0-0. That one year hard-on for the Sunflower State didn’t really last past 1984.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: Bill Snyder was only 44 years old and still five years from taking over at Kansas State, but the Wildcats hadn’t hit bottom yet. The program went 3-7-1 in ‘84, establishing a high water mark for wins it wouldn’t eclipse until 1990. For a while there, Kansas State was just the Big Eight’s Vanderbilt.

Is Vandy Favored?: Nope. Kansas State is a 3.5-point favorite, which is pretty reasonable given its spot in the rankings.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: Starting quarterback Jesse Ertz has been borderline cruel to the overwhelmed pass defenses he’s faced this year. 25% of his passes in the team’s opener against Central Arkansas ended in touchdowns as he cruised to a ridiculous 319.8 passer rating. Let’s see what he can do against a secondary whose starters earned actual Rivals.com pages as high school recruits.

Most Potent Defensive Threat: D.J. Reed is a versatile defensive back who can create chaos in the secondary or range up to the line of scrimmage and drop ballcarriers for a loss. He knocked down 16 passes last fall and should line up against Vandy’s top wideout — whoever that is this week.

Matchup to Watch: Kyle Shurmur vs. Kansas State’s passing defense. Shurmur’s 2017 couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. He’s completed 76 percent of his passes and posted a sterling 7:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio during Vandy’s 2-0 run. However, he’ll face a much tougher test Saturday against a Wildcat team that’s held its first two opponents to just 256 passing yards total.

Kansas State hasn’t played tough competition, but 2017’s small sample size suggests an opportunistic defense with the chops to turn mistakes into turnovers. Shurmur showcased pinpoint accuracy against Alabama A&M last Saturday, but he’ll have to prove he can do it against better coverage — and in the face of a pass rush that will be light years better than the Bulldogs.

Interesting Fact: According to Trip Advisor, the No. 1 thing to do in Manhattan, KS is participate in an escape room. That’s a) impressively generic and b) a metaphor for the struggle of leaving Kansas and finding a state that isn’t just 82,000 square miles of flat rectangle.

Bonus Fact!: Kansas State’s football stadium is named after Snyder, which means its old as hell but generally pleasant.

If Kansas State wins, we: prep for Alabama. A win Saturday puts Vanderbilt on the brink of the top 25 and in line for a potential College Gameday hosting gig in Nashville (although CBS’s claim to broadcasting the game puts a kink in that). A loss costs the team a week of headlines and the recruiting boost that would come with it, but there’s no shame in losing to a good Big 12 team.