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South Dakota State's strengths, weaknesses and players to watch
Team: South Dakota State
Jeff Sagarin rating: 125 (KU's Sagarin rating is 85)
Sagarin line: KU favored by 11
South Dakota's biggest strength is its passing game, which ranked No. 1 in the Missouri Valley a year ago (286.7 yards per game).
A lot the credit goes to sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner, who threw for 300 yards or more in five of SDSU's final seven games last year. Sumner set a conference record for passing yards by a freshman in 2011 with 2,382, and he also placed third in the voting for FCS freshman of the year.
Sumner, though, might not play against KU on Saturday. He was held out of practices earlier this week with a thumb injury, and coach John Stiegelmeier listed him as doubtful on Tuesday.
The latest from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's Terry Vandrovec in a chat on Thursday, though, was that Sumner was claiming that he was throwing passes this week.
If Sumner doesn't play, 6-4 redshirt freshman Eric Kline will start for the Jacks. Kline was the 2010 Gatorade Minnesota Football Player of the Year and has more mobility than Sumner.
South Dakota State's defense struggled against both the pass and rush during a 5-6 season in 2011.
The Jacks allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game and also allowed opponents to complete 64.8 percent of their passes a year ago while allowing 33.1 points per game.
SDSU also had an inconsistent running game, averaging a Valley-worst 83.5 rushing yards per game. The Jacks' backs posted just 2.6 yards per carry, which was nearly a full yard worse than any other Missouri Valley team.
Players to Watch
Sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner (No. 6) set a new conference record for passing yards in 2011 despite only starting eight games. He posted 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and also tied a school record with 37 completions in a 31-14 loss to Northern Iowa.
As mentioned earlier, Sumner might not play because of injury, but if he does, he'll be the one to watch in SDSU's shotgun, quick-throw offense.
Senior receiver Aaron Rollin (No. 5) is the Jacks' big-play threat, posting 61 catches and 906 yards a year ago.
The Lee's Summit, Mo., native had four 100-yard receiving games a year ago and averaged 122 yards receiving yards in the Jacks' final three contests.
"You'd better learn who he is," KU coach Charlie Weis said Tuesday, "because he's a dynamic wide receiver."
Senior Tyrel Kool (No. 2) should spend most of his time at receiver after rushing for a team-high 534 yards last year. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Kool had 64 receptions for 808 yards as a sophomore in 2010.
"He's a good runner," Weis said. "He provides a lot of versatility to their game and he can play either position, and they can do a lot with him."
Senior defensive tackle Andy Mink (No. 52) has been a productive defensive tackle despite his size (6-2, 270 pounds). An honorable-mention all-conference selection last year, Mink posted team highs in sacks (six) and tackles-for-loss (8.5) while finishing second on the team with 75 tackles.
"Everyone will talk about how undersized Andy Mink is ... but he's a true pain in the butt for whoever is going to go against him," Weis said. "He's a good, solid football player."
It's hard to know what to expect from both teams with so many unknowns heading into Game One.
Just looking at the numbers, though, KU should have the advantage when its offense goes up against South Dakota State's defense, which had trouble stopping teams in all facets a year ago.
Something tells me that Sumner is going to play in this game, and if he does, we could see both teams moving the ball against defenses that are trying to rebuild after struggling last season.
(1:40 p.m. update Friday: Uh yeah, I was wrong on that call. See update above.)
In the end, though, this is still KU playing an FCS opponent at home, meaning the Jayhawks should be able to score enough to not be threatened in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Kansas 41, South Dakota State 21