Kansas State had the prime opportunity to pick up a big non-conference win before getting into Big-12 play, but they were unable to get the job done. With their first loss out of the way, the Wildcats will return home to host a Central Florida team that will be missing the focal point of their team. We’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing.
Heading into the first Big-12 conference game in school history, the UCF Knights are 3-0 and averaging 40.6 points per game. While both of those things are certainly what you want if you're a UCF fan, it may be hard for the team to continue their success since their starting quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee, is out for a few weeks with an injury. The injury didn’t affect the Knights much in their 48-14 win against FCS opponent Villanova, but it certainly will affect them against the reigning Big-12 champs.
Calling the shots on offense in place of Rhys Plumlee is USF transfer Timmy McClain, who did put on a show on Saturday against Villanova. The sophomore QB would finish the day with 321 yards and two touchdowns. UCF would also pick up 251 rushing yards in the game, but putting up those yardage numbers on the ground will be difficult this weekend.
Through three games this season, Kansas State is allowing an average of 72 rushing yards per game, ranking them 16th in the country for that statistical category. Even in their 30-27 loss to Missouri, the Wildcats still held the Tigers to 74 rush yards on 28 attempts. Where the Wildcats did fail defensively was through the air, as they allowed Missouri QB Brady Cook to throw for 356 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensively, the Wildcats showed they could move the ball with the passing game but miss Deuce Vaughn in the running game. K-State quarterback Will Howard went for 270 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, but the Wildcats' leading rusher finished with just 54 yards. Even with the lack of a running game, K-State had the chance to drive down the field in the last two minutes, but they failed to put themselves in field goal range.
Kansas State is currently favored by (-6.5) for their conference opener, and I’ll be backing them for my play. Since 2021, the Wildcats are 5-2-1 ATS after a loss and 9-3 ATS as home favorites, so not only do they play well in this spot, but they are playing a quarterback who has three interceptions and zero passing touchdowns in 115 passing attempts on the road.
While McClain is a dual-threat QB like Rhys Plumlee, he is the far inferior passer, so the run-heavy Knights will be playing right into the strength of the K-State defense. Through three games, UCF ranks 16th in rush play percentage, so if the Wildcats, who rank 14th in yards per rush allowed, can focus primarily on stopping the run, it will be difficult for the Knights to get their offense moving downfield.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas State will be the first offense UCF faces that isn’t afraid to consistently drop back and throw the ball. The Knights have yet to be challenged in the passing game, but that will change this weekend since Will Howard averages 35.5 attempts per game. Since 2021, UCF is 4-8 ATS on the road, and I think they’ll struggle to stop Howard in their first Big-12 road game.
Kansas State (-6.5)