Six games into the season, two of the three area Football Bowl Subdivision teams are working to ensure this isn’t the halfway point.
Because halfway means the season will end at 12 games and no postseason appearance.
Kansas State stands 3-3, and Missouri is 2-4. A prevailing thought from fans/media for both programs in the preseason was bowl eligibility would represent a successful season, especially in Columbia, where Barry Odom took over for Gary Pinkel.
This was reasonable. The Wildcats were coming off a bowl season and looked to be better at quarterback and on defense.
Mizzou finished 5-7 last season but quarterback Drew Lock now had some experience and the program would get a charge from a new coach after a tumultuous 2015 season.
The midterm grades find each program one heart-breaking, one-point loss away from feeling much better about the season.
For Kansas State, falling 17-16 at West Virginia after holding a 13-point halftime lead, is the outcome that leaves the Wildcats in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings.
The Wildcats’ losses have come against teams that were ranked at the time or are currently in the poll, and if that trend continues — starting with Saturday’s home game against Texas — the Wildcats should be on their way to bowl eligibility.
And a run to the Big 12 championship is not out of the realm of possibility, not in this year’s Big 12. No team in the league’s five years as a 10-team conference has run the table, and there are losses out there for the teams at or near the top. Kansas State can play with all of them.
▪ Chances of reaching the postseason: 75 percent
Mizzou’s crushing outcome occurred in its conference opener. With a stop on fourth and 10 from the Missouri 20, the Tigers likely would have held on to beat Georgia. Instead, a touchdown pass gave the Bulldogs a 28-27 victory.
All Missouri has to show in the victory column are conquests of Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. The last two setbacks, at LSU and at Florida, were by a combined 82-21 score.
Defense was Mizzou’s calling card last year. MU ranked sixth in yards allowed per game, a shade over 300. That side of the ball seemed in good hands when the Tigers elevated Odom from defensive coordinator to head coach. He brought in new defensive coaches, and what happens? The defense enters Saturday’s home game against Middle Tennessee State ranked 100th.
The next four games hold Missouri’s postseason fortunes. After this weekend, the Tigers face Kentucky and Vanderbilt sandwiched around a visit to South Carolina. These are the most winnable games remaining. Take them all and the Tigers will extend their season by a month.
▪ Chances of reaching the postseason: 45 percent
Kansas brings a 1-5 record into Saturday, when Oklahoma State visits, and a bowl drought that reaches eight years is inevitable. Like K-State and Mizzou, the Jayhawks have their one-point gut punch, falling to TCU 24-23 after leading by nine entering the fourth quarter.
An improved defense brings hope for an additional victory. Inconsistent quarterback play douses those hopes.
The next bowl season for KU? At the earliest, 2018.
▪ Chances of reaching the postseason: 1 percent
GAME OF THE WEEK
Texas A&M at Alabama, 2:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS: Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight and Mississippi’s Chad Kelly are the only active quarterbacks to beat Alabama. Knight did it at as a freshman at Oklahoma, when he was MVP of the Sugar Bowl to cap the 2013 season. Against a terrific Crimson Tide defense, Knight gives A&M a chance in this game as a run-pass quarterback.
TCU over West Virginia, 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC: The Horned Frogs have had two weeks to wonder how they almost lost to Kansas, and the Mountaineers can’t possibly duplicate their effort in last week’s walloping of Texas Tech. Before last year’s blowout victory by TCU, the three previous meetings were decided by 1-3 points.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m. Saturday on ABC: Are the Buckeyes are in for a letdown after last weekend’s huge victory at Wisconsin? Maybe early in the game, but look for Ohio State to grind out a victory in a tough environment and keep its momentum going toward a final month that includes games against Nebraska and Michigan.
Wisconsin at Iowa, 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN: The Badgers can’t let Ohio State beat them twice. Iowa is more than capable of taking advantage of an unfocused Wisconsin team. The Hawkeyes are better on the road. There have been nine straight road triumphs for Iowa, which lost to North Dakota State and Northwestern at home.
Blair Kerkhoff, firstname.lastname@example.org