KSU Week 1: Non-con

Starting today, I’m going to take a look at all 2017 Wildcat opponents on a weekly basis (once a week, every week) leading up to opening kickoff on September 2nd. First up: non-conference.

I’m not going to spend much time here with the first two opponents. I respect both as upsets can always occur (NDSU nods) but the purple should dispatch both relatively easily.

Central Arkansas

They did finish 10-3 before losing to #2 Eastern Washington in the FCS playoffs, but will be breaking in a new QB. Look for the offense to pull away in the 2nd half after a surprisingly hard-fought opening segment.

Prediction: 41-17 KSU

Cumulative Record: 1-0

Charlotte

The 49ers have only had a football program since 2013 and since jumping up to Conference USA from FCS just two years later in 2015, they’re a meager 6-18. They do look to be on the upswing as they return a number of starters – but once again, it should be all Wildcats.

Prediction: 48-23 KSU

Cumulative Record: 2-0

Vanderbilt

This looks to be KSU’s first true test of 2017 and its outcome should set the tone for the rest of the year.

Offense

Vandy was a bad offensive squad last season. They concluded 2016 (out of 128 FBS teams):

113th in points per game

98th in OFEI

107th in OAY (Available Yards %)

106th in OTD (Touchdown rate)

114th in OTF (TDs after first downs)

89th in S&P+

123rd in PD S&P+ (S&P+ rating on passing downs)

105th in IsoPPP (measures explosive plays)

Not good. But now that we’ve got that out of the way…

The Commodores were also inexperienced and do bring back eight starters on that side of the ball. While their QB play (particularly in the passing game) was a major issue for most of the year before then-sophomore Kyle Shurmur found a rhythm down the stretch – they were still an imposing team on the ground and managed to move the ball with a keen aversion to turnovers. Shurmur should continue his improvement with his top four targets (Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott among them) all back. RB Ralph Webb (3,347 career rushing yards on 4.5 yards per carry and 22 TDs) also returns and should once again be the focal point on that side of the ball.

Advantage: KSU by a comfortable margin

Defense

For all of their offensive shortcomings, Vandy fielded a respectable defense in 2016 (and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with HC Derek Mason’s roots). They finished 37th in points surrendered, 42nd in DFEI, and 40th in S&P+. In reality, they were eerily similar to KSU last season, as they weren’t flashy but were consistent and got stops when they needed to (the unit actually led the nation in RZ defense – and with plenty of leeway to boot). They lose their top two defenders (stud LB Zach Cunningham and CB Torren McGaster) but still return seven other starters, including senior S Ladarius Wiley.

Advantage: I’ll give the edge to KSU, although it’s razor-thin

Special Teams

Vandy was decent in their return game last year and tote an effective field goal kicker in Tommy Openshaw, but they struggled everywhere else. They surrendered one of the worst average opponent’s field position figures in the country and often found themselves in deep holes because of it. Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath should be licking their chops against these guys.

Advantage: KSU

Keys

- Don’t come away from the red zone empty-handed. The Commodores’ D made a living on frustrating teams in their end last year. The Cats can’t let that happen if they want to win on the road.

- Take advantage on special teams. Snyder’s teams almost always have a leg up in this area and need to feast on a poor coverage unit like this one. A big play or two here could determine the game.

- Limit turnovers. The Vandy defense didn’t create many last year and no reason to see that changing. Can’t let them get one or two to give their subpar offense a shorter field.

Prediction: Mason’s team only finished 5-8 last season but I think this outcome is much closer than I’d like to see. Ertz and the three-headed monster in the backfield (Barnes, Silmon, and Warmack) have a monster day on the ground and Pringle makes a couple of key catches late as KSU grinds out a tight 27-21 victory.

Cumulative Record: 3-0. The bye hits just in time as the Cats prepare for Tom Herman’s Longhorns and the start of league play.

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