K-State, Texas to Battle on ABC Tonight

 WILDCAT GAMEWEEK: Everything you need to know for tonight's game

MANHATTAN, Kan. Fresh off a bowl-eligible clinching victory at Colorado, the Kansas State Wildcats (6-4, 3-3 Big 12) return to Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the final time in 2006 tonight to take on the No. 4-ranked Texas Longhorns (9-1, 6-0 Big 12) in a Big 12 North vs. South battle that could have an impact on the BCS picture.

The defending national champion Longhorns are the second top-10 opponent to visit Manhattan this season current No. 3 Louisville trekked to Kansas State back in September and for the second time this year most of the college football world will be focused on the Little Apple as ABS Sports is in town and will televise the primetime tilt to much of the nation.

For those fans in the stands, this evening’s Big 12 battle can be heard live on radio across the 31-station K-State Sports network, including KMAN (1350 AM) and KMKF (101.5 FM) here in Manhattan, with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play) and Stan Weber (color) calling the action and Matt Walters checking in from the sidelines.

Tonight’s game will also mark the final home appearance in a Wildcat uniform for 20 Kansas State seniors, many of whom played a role in Kansas State’s remarkable Big 12 championship run during the 2003 campaign.

With two games left in the regular season, Kansas State will be out to keep its Big 12 North Division hopes alive tonight against a Longhorn squad that has won 21 straight conference games. At 3-3 in Big 12 play, K-State sits just one game behind Nebraska (4-2) in the North, and if the Wildcats can win out and get a little help along the way they could very well end up making their third trip to the Big 12 Conference Championship game since 2000.

Texas’ South Division title hopes are a little more secure. The Longhorns only need to split their final two games to earn a return trip to the league’s title game.

Of course, Texas has much bigger plans in mind. Currently the fifth-ranked team in the BCS race, the Longhorns would relish a shot at defending their title. But in order to do that, UT will need to win its remaining two regular-season games as well as the Big 12 Championship game while keeping its fingers crossed that the teams currently ahead of the Longhorns stumble over the last weeks of the season.

Add it all up and you get perhaps the biggest game to be played in Manhattan since the last time Texas visited the Little Apple in 2002.

That game came down to the wire, with the Longhorns blocking a game-tying 36-yard field goal attempt by Kansas State with seven seconds to play.

On paper, this year’s match-up doesn’t appear to offer the same possibilities. But as often has been said, games are not played on paper.

Still, Texas leads the Big 12 in scoring (39.2 points per game) while ranking   second in scoring defense (15.7 ppg). The Wildcats have also been stingy on defense this season and rank sixth in the Big 12, yielding 19.1 points per game. On offense, K-State has been one of the league’s most improved units of late. The Wildcats are averaging just 22.1 points per game this year, but have scored 32.5 points on average over the past two games.

Riding back-to-back Big 12 Conference wins for the first time in three seasons, a rejuvenated Kansas State squad enters Saturday’s game vs. Texas looking for its first victory over a top-5 opponent since defeating then-No. 1 Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game.

The Wildcats became the seventh team from the Big 12 Conference to qualify for the postseason with its 34-21 win at Colorado and have emerged as one of the league’s hottest teams down the home stretch of the season.

After struggling in the early going, K-State’s offense has taken flight with freshman quarterback Josh Freeman at the helm. The Wildcats have averaged 378.0 yards of total offense over the last two games, with much of that production coming via the arm of Freeman, who has completed 85-of-160 passes (53.1 percent) for 1,120 yards since the start of conference action.

K-State’s running attack has also come of age recently as junior James Johnson and freshman Leon Patton have combined to average 184.7 yards per game in the last three contests.  The duo each went over the century mark two weeks ago at Missouri, before Johnson rushed for 115 yards against Iowa State. Last week at Colorado, it was Patton who carried the load, as the freshman came up just four yards shy of topping 100 yards on the ground for the third time this season.

On defense, the Cats continue to be a hard-nosed and stingy unit. K-State has held three opponents to 10 points or less and continue to rank among the nation’s leaders in both sacks (seventh) and tackles for losses (14th).

Defensive end Ian Campbell, seventh nationally in sacks and 10th in TFLs, has made a huge push for all-league recognition. The Hendricks Award candidate has tallied at least one sack in 8-of-10 games this season and enters tonight’s contest just one sack shy of the Kansas State record of 11.5 set by Nyle Wiren in 1996.

The Wildcats have also received plenty of production from Butkus Award candidate Brandon Archer (78 tackles) and fellow linebacker Zach Diles (75 tackles). The duo has evolved into one of the most steady linbacking tandems in the country this year and will be out to put the clamps on a Texas offense that is averaging nearly 40 points per game.

That task is nothing new of the Wildcats, however. K-State has held 8-of-10 opponents well below their scoring average, including Louisville, which was averaging over 50 points per game before taking on the Wildcats.

Winners of a school-record 21 consecutive Big 12 Conference games, Texas can clinch a share of the Big 12’s South Division title for the sixth time in the 11 years of the league with a victory over the Wildcats tonight.

The Longhorns will also be gunning to extend their current streak of 17 straight road wins, including 13 in a row in Big 12 games.

Texas enters tonight’s game ranked fifth nationally in scoring offense (39.2 ppg), 15th in total offense (409.7 ypg) and 21st in rushing offense (183.1 ypg).

The Longhorns have been equally impressive on the defensive side of the ball, where they are yielding just 15.7 points per game to rank 19th nationally. UT also ranks 21st in the nation in total defense, yielding 285.5 yards per game.

The Texas offense has been led by redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, who has passed for over 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. McCoy was masterful in the Horns last outing as he passed for 346 yards and three scores in a 36-10 victory over Oklahoma State.  He already owns the school record for passing touchdowns in a single-season and needs three more to break the NCAA freshman mark.

McCoy’s favorite target has been Limas Sweed. The junior has already hauled in 10 touchdowns on the season and ranks seventh in the Big 12 with 66.0 receiving yards per game.

On the ground, Texas has featured the two-headed rushing attack of Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young. Charles is averaging 75.3 yards per game, while Young has added another 55.0 per contest. The duo has also combined for nine rushing touchdowns on the year.

Junior strong safety Michael Griffin has been the heart and soul of the Texas defense thus far in 2006 and has produced some eye-popping numbers along the way. In addition to leading the Longhorns with 90 tackles this season, he has also snagged three interceptions, forced three fumbles and recovered two others. His partner in crime in the secondary is left cornerback Aaron Ross, who has five interceptions this year.

Up front, defensive end Tim Crowder has proved to be a handful for opposing offensive lineman. He has tallied 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season, including 9.5 sacks.