Read about K-State vs LSU in the upcoming TexAct Texas Bowl on Tuesday night.
By David Smale, Contributor to Sports Radio 810
Predicting the outcome of bowl games used to be really difficult. You didn’t know who was excited to be there and who was disappointed. You had no way to tell whose bowl preparation went well and who was going through the motions. Only the players themselves knew who was looking at it as a business trip and who was just in it for the tourist side.
All that changed in recent years with the addition of opt-outs, the transfer portal and coaching changes that seem to happen earlier than ever. Now it’s downright impossible to make a good prediction.
But as Kansas State (7-5) prepares to play Louisiana State (6-6) in the TexAct Texas Bowl Tuesday night in Houston, Texas, all signs point to an advantage for the Wildcats. LSU has one of the biggest brands in college football, but this is definitely an off year. The Tigers had to defeat Texas A&M in its last game to be bowl eligible. The national champions from two years ago are in a major transition.
LSU fired its head coach, Ed Orgeron, and new coach Brian Kelly won’t take over until after the bowl game. Interim coach Brad Davis will coach the Tigers against K-State. Linebacker Damone Clark, defensive tackle Neil Farrell and running back Tyrion Davis-Price have opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. A total of 10 players who were part of the program in 2021 have entered the transfer portal, including the top two quarterbacks.
K-State will be without two of its top three running backs, as back-ups Joe Ervin and Jacardia Wright have entered the transfer portal. But head coach Chris Klieman will lead the program for the foreseeable future and no Wildcats chose to opt out.
“This gives us another chance to be together as a football team,” Klieman said in mid-December. “This is a close-knit group of guys that cares a lot about each other and enjoys each other’s company. For us being the late game on January 4, even though we’ll have a little time off, it’s really given us almost a full extra month with these guys.”
Not only does K-State have almost a full contingent of players, they’re in Houston with big-time motivation. Sixth-year quarterback Skylar Thompson out of Fort Osage High School will return for his final game, and the rest of the roster wants him to go out on a high note.
“It’s big time for him to possibly get a chance to finish it off down in Houston playing against LSU,” all-American running back Deuce Vaughn said. “It’s really big. Man, I’m excited for him to possibly have that opportunity. If he’s ready to go, I’ll be right there, and we’ll be rallying around him because that’s our quarterback and our guy. I’m excited to possibly have him back.”
Thompson has missed time due to injury in each of the last two years, including two different stints this year. He looked like he would be lost for the year when he pulled up with a non-contact right leg injury against Southern Illinois. But he came back quickly and played well over the next six games.
But he injured the other leg late in the game against Baylor and the Wildcats lost their last two games, against the Bears and at Texas. The Wildcats are not the same team without him. They’re 5-1 in games in which Thompson started and finished, and only 2-4 when he leaves early or misses the game altogether.
Vaughn said the way the regular season ended has not sat well with the Wildcats.
“The way that we lost our last game, it’s been a while since we’ve played football,” Vaughn said. “We had some time off after the Texas game. I’m fired up to go out there and play another football game with our guys. We’re really, really ready to go because it’s another opportunity to come out and showcase what K-State is about.”
Sounds like the Cats have plenty to play for.