Kansas State-West Virginia winner will retain upward mobility

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the Big 12 coaches made their preseason appraisals in July, they placed West Virginia and Kansas State in the final two available slots. (Iowa State and Kansas weren’t budging from the bottom rungs.)

Entering conference play this week, the Mountaineers (3-0) and Wildcats (2-1) wield more favorable ratings, which is at least partly a product of the underperforming teams picked ahead of them. Nonetheless, this Saturday’s game in Morgantown feels meaningful enough that a sellout could be in the offing.

K-State lost its only legit nonconference test 26-13 at Stanford, a game that wasn’t sealed until Christian McCaffrey’s 41-yard touchdown with 2:12 left. Subsequent romps over Florida Atlantic and Missouri State — by a combined score of 98-7 — made the Wildcats look capable in their typically rugged fashion.

Some West Virginia fans are squawking about their team’s inability to crack this week’s rankings, but a Top 25 appearance feels premature. After all, the Mountaineers were tied with Youngstown State at the half and came within a tipped pass of an epic collapse against BYU.

“It’s a blessing,” said receiver Shelton Gibson. “There’s only two teams undefeated in the Big 12.”

Gibson ranks ninth nationally in receiving yards (118 per game) and his quarterback, Skyler Howard, sits ninth in completion percentage (68.5). West Virginia ranks 13th in the FBS in total offense at 533 yards per game, which will come in handy against a K-State defense that has yielded only 537 yards all season .

If that last stat — which equates to 179 yards per game — sounds straight out of the 1960s, bear in mind Bill Snyder’s team played only one half of football last weekend when storms cut short a 35-0 win over Missouri State. Still, K-State’s defense has been awfully stingy, to the extent that its 3.76 yards per play ranks fourth nationally.

The Wildcats didn’t allow McCaffrey to eclipse 100 yards until the 58th minute. BYU’s Jamaal Williams dragged West Virginia’s defense for 128 yards in the first half.

The Mountaineers are on a four-game streak overall and haven’t lost since Dec. 5. That was the day K-State pulled off the most MacGyver-like upset ever: Beating West Virginia with two scores by a receiver playing quarterback, a 97-yard kick return, seven ounces of lighter fluid and a bungee cord.

Now, they meet to open the Big 12 schedule, with the winner keeping upward mobility in a league race that no longer has a frontrunner, but rather a pack of them.

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