Leipold likes KU versus K-State as last game of the year; Jayhawks will face tough test against stingy KSU defense

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (6) heaves a pass up the field against Texas during the third quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

Mark down one vote for Kansas versus Kansas State having a permanent home on the last weekend of the regular season, often known as Rivalry Week in college football.

“For what it is worth, I think it is great that it is the last game of the year,” KU head coach Lance Leipold said this week, leading up to the 7 p.m. contest on Saturday in Manhattan, which will be televised nationally on FOX.

Saturday’s game will mark the first time since 2016 that the Jayhawks and Wildcats have met in the final regular season game, despite being one of college football’s oldest rivalries.

There’s no official word on whether Kansas State also is lobbying for the game to always be played on the last weekend of the regular season, but recent history suggests the Wildcats are happy to play the Jayhawks any time.

Kansas State has won 13 straight against Kansas, and has only lost four times to the Jayhawks since 2000. They’ll be getting a Kansas team, 6-5, that is entering the final week of the season with a winning record for the first time since 2008. But they’ll also be getting a KU squad on a two-game losing streak, with the last one a 55-14 blowout to Texas.

Leipold said the loss to the Longhorns won’t hamper KU’s mindset heading into Manhattan. One loss won’t derail the progress the Jayhawks have made this season.

“By no means did we ever think we were there,” Leipold said of the KU turnaround that has captured national headlines in college football. “We have made great progress, and there are going to be days you take a step back. Unfortunately, we did (last) weekend, and we are going to put it back to where it needs to be.”

If so, KU likely will have to solve a KSU defense that has been tough to crack this season.

“They have lots of weapons and one of the best defenses in the country,” Leipold said of the Wildcats, who come into the game with the 15th-ranked scoring defense in the country.

K-State is giving up just 18.7 points a game. Compare that to Kansas, who is surrendering just more than 32 points a game, which ranks it 114th among NCAA Division 1 teams.

But, perhaps, the KU offense will give the Wildcats something to think about. The Jayhawks got quarterback Jalon Daniels back last week, marking his first action since leaving with an injury against TCU on Oct. 8. Daniels stayed in the blowout loss longer than normally would be the case to knock some rust off, Leipold said. The quarterback looked sharper as the game moved along.

Daniels’ arm and legs have been a big part of KU building a portfolio of eye-catching offensive statistics for the season. KU has the third best scoring offense in the Big 12 Conference and the 27th best in Division 1 football. KU has scored more touchdowns and racked up more yards on the season than Kansas State. Heading into the final game of the season, KU actually is a top three team nationally in one regard. KU is averaging 7.2 yards per play this season, which is the third-best mark in the country, trailing only Tennessee and Ohio State.

Kansas State, though, is the squad that enters the game with a chance to be elite. With a win, Kansas State, 8-3, secures a spot in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington next month. The Wildcats have reached the Big 12 title game twice, most recently beating Oklahoma in 2003 before the game went on a six-year hiatus. They shared the conference championship with the Sooners in 2012, but have not stood alone atop the league since Bill Snyder was roaming the sidelines.

A KU win would put Texas in the Big 12 Championship game against TCU. But more importantly, it would give KU a seventh win on the season, a new talking point in the recruiting battles between KU and K-State, and provide the Jayhawks with an extra dose of momentum as it gets about a month’s worth of practice for an upcoming bowl.

“That will be an important 30 days of development for our program,” Leipold said of the extra practices that come with bowl eligibility.

A Jayhawk win also would ensure that KU stays on the right side of one of many ledgers in this series that dates back to 1902 and is the fifth-longest continuous series in all of college football. KU is in no jeopardy of falling behind in the series’ overall standings, leading 65-49-5. KU also actually leads the series in games played in Manhattan, but it won’t with a loss on Saturday. If K-State wins Saturday’s contest, the series will be tied 28-28-3 in games played in Manhattan.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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