A Look From Behind Enemy Lines
Kansas State has yet to win a conference game. Nebraska has only one win within their division. It's easy enough to say that this is a must-win for both, but take out the records, just from a mental standpoint, these teams have to come out on top.
For Kansas State, it's a chance to show that the season hasn't completely gone down the tubes. The Fresno State loss, the loss to in-state rival, Kansas and the hearty, but ultimately futile showing against the Sooners. It's all equaled what has become a dismal showing for the Wildcats on either side of the ball.
For Nebraska, it's been a year of revamping, rebuilding and rethinking everything they have traditionally though, especially on the offensive side of the ball. It's amounted to record-setting performances, both good and bad, but this game has a chance to prove at least to them that they are actually getting better instead of worse.
It's not ironic then, that the main focus for both teams will be at the most visible of positions, quarterbacks Joe Dailey and Dylan Meier being the keys to offensive success.
Dylan Meier has been not excellent, but very good and most importantly, efficient as he took the reins from the now departed Ell Roberson. Throwing over 60 percent of his passes complete, a touchdown to interception ratio better than two to one, Meier has mostly done what was asked of him.
Joe Dailey, well, his season has been one of calamity and triumph. The triumph against Baylor as he broke the single-game yardage record for Nebraska, throwing for over 300 yards for the first time in NU history. The calamity comes from a season littered with mental miscues, leading a team to the worst loss in the history of the program and being sporadic at best at being his best.
They will lead two offenses that while being very different in scheme are somewhat similar in that they are each led by a very capable starting running back.
Darren Sproles came off a season where he was unjustly snubbed for any serious Heisman consideration, leading the country in yards rushing, tallying almost 2,000 on the year. This year hasn't been nearly as productive, Sproles only topping 100 yards rushing against Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Cory Ross came off a season where he was the late-bloomer in the conference, his 100-yard performances in all but one game in his 3 starts to end the 2003 season. This year, Ross has ran for over 100 yards three times.
This hasn't amounted to a lot of team success, Kansas State and Nebraska ranked 12th and 6th in the conference in rushing respectively, but each has enough potency in that area, that the defenses will have to make sure to account for the other's ground attack.
Speaking of defenses, that's actually a sore-spot for both teams, the Huskers and the Wildcats struggling mightily at times.
For the Wildcats, it's been performances against Fresno State and Texas A&M. For the Huskers, it's about a disastrous performance against Texas Tech, where the Huskers gave up a record 70 points. And, while it turned out to be a victory, the 400 yards allowed to Baylor was more than unsettling to some.
What Nebraska does well is stop the run. What Kansas State does well is stop the pass. What neither does well and could very well be one of the biggest keys to this game is hold onto the ball while taking the ball from the other team.
Nebraska is horrid to say the least, ranking amongst the nation's worst in turnover margin. Kansas State is better, though not markedly, KSU having issues themselves, ranking 9th overall in the conference.
Then, there's special teams and honestly, there's nothing special about either team, both ranked in the middle or the bottom of the conference in most of the applicable categories.
Ok, I know, this is sounding like a game between two teams just struggling to stay afloat. Well, that's right and let's call it the way it is, this isn't a match up of two typical teams from either state. So much so, that even national TV has decided that Nebraska vs. Kansas State isn't worthy to show, even via pay per view.
This isn't a situation where two of the mighty have fallen, however. For Kansas State, it's a hiccup, but certainly an unwelcome one coming off their first conference title in about a bazillion years. For Nebraska, it's about getting back up, the Huskers trying to segue into this modern offensive era and the defense trying to adjust to it's entirely new staff.
None of it has worked out real well for either team, but that's why this game means what it does. Both schools are enduring fairly dreadful years based on their usual expectations. Both teams are still at this point of the season just trying to create an identity for themselves. And, both teams have as much to lose mentally as they do realistically, because while conference hopes remain alive and bowl aspirations are there as they always are, a match up like this will come down to pride and who has more.
It is ironic that when you look at this year's match up, no, it doesn't have all the usual luster, both teams being ranked, conference title aspirations, new year's bowl goals and all that. But, this game could mean just as much for both, because whoever loses this game is going to find themselves continuing on a road that neither thought they would be on this year.
Granted, for Kansas State, it's an even bigger shock, but Nebraska is Nebraska and they complain about losing, no matter who it's to. What I find more interesting about this game is that it is as much for the ego as it is for the actual conference ramifications.
There's always been a question about this game and whether or not it is indeed a rivalry.
I would say this to answer that question for you. If the game means little compared to the post-season aspirations that you normally aspire for. If the game has hardly any bearing on the national picture at all. If the game for all intents and purposes is a game that won't garner glory or awards for either.
Then, if you as a Kansas State fan still want to win this game as much as any other. If you as a Nebraska fan still view this game as pivotal simply because of who it is against. Then, perhaps it's not a rivalry born from glory, but from the ashes, but it's a rivalry nonetheless.
When nobody else cares, do you?
That's a rivalry to me.
And, maybe this is one more game in what is a young rivalry, but regardless of the record, regardless of the post-season aspirations and despite the fact that there's a nation that won't be watching, those that listen, those that are there to see, it should be a heck of game in the end.
I did pick a team to win this one, but I'll save that for later. I'd say if this is indeed a rivalry, I'll take the same philosophy I do with all of them.
The team that wants it the most will win.
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