MANHATTAN, Kan. – Lincoln Riley may be the new whiz-kid coach of ninth-ranked Oklahoma, but the reality is that he has been in the Big 12 for 15 years, first as a player at Texas Tech and then as an assistant coach for the Red Raiders.
In other words, he's seen Kansas State plenty over the years.
So while this may be Riley's first go-around leading the Sooners through the conference schedule, their trip to Manhattan on Saturday will hardly be the first time his teams have matched wits with Bill Snyder.
"You know what you're going to get from Kansas State every time you step on the field," Riley said. "A very well-coached and physical football. They challenge you on special teams. ... Offensively, they're very, very multiple. A lot of different run games that they present. They do a nice job scheming you up.
"You've got to be ready for it," he said. "You've got to understand those schemes."
That's because Snyder, for all the tweaks to his system over the past 25 years, never deviates too far from his core principles: establish the run, win the line of scrimmage, don't turn the ball over.
They're simple things. And they've produced more than 200 wins.
The Sooners (5-1, 2-1) will be facing a team in Kansas State (3-3, 1-2) that has struggled to adhere to those principles this season. The Wildcats had conference title aspirations after returning the bulk of a team that finished strong a year ago, but they stumbled at Vanderbilt, lost in double-overtime to Texas and are coming off a 26-6 loss to TCU that was every bit as lopsided as the final score.
"When you lose ballgames, obviously you have things to straighten out and get better at," Snyder said. "When I say get better, I do not mean just players, I mean the coaches as well. All of us have a number of different things that we have to address and be able to have an honest self-assessment. ...We need to put more emphasis on certain things. There is a lot of stuff that goes on in the game of football and it does run the gamut for us."
That doesn't sound like a coach brimming with confidence.
Then again, the Sooners haven't given Snyder much reason to be confident lately. They've won six straight in Manhattan, each by double digits — including a 55-0 romp two years ago.
"That was the first taste that whole season, to me, where we really played well on all three sides of the ball together," said Riley, who was offensive coordinator at the time. "You really saw how good we could be when we did that, and I think it gave our team a big shot of confidence the rest of the season."
As the Sooners and Wildcats both look for a shot of confidence Saturday, here are some things to watch:
DELTON'S DESIGN: Backup quarterback Alex Delton is expected to start his second straight game for Kansas State with Jesse Ertz sidelined with an injury. Delton has struggled mightily in the pass game, so designing an offense that plays to his strengths is crucial.
MAYFIELD'S MARCH: Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just one pick, and is averaged 322.8 yards through the air. That kind of production has brought NFL scouts in bunches, though Riley is being careful to harness the attention.
"I know this," Riley said, "if he ends up in the right place he's going to make somebody a hell of a player, just like he has us right here."
FINISHING STRONG: Oklahoma has jumped out to early leads each of the past three games, only to squander most of them. The Sooners held on to beat Baylor and Texas, but it nipped them in a 38-31 loss to Iowa State that greatly hurt their national title hopes.
BIG-PLAY PRINGLE: The Wildcats struggled to move the ball consistently against the Horned Frogs, so look for them to try to pop some big plays against Oklahoma. Wide receiver Byron Pringle is a good place to start; he ranks third nationally with 25.4 yards per reception.
SPECIAL TEAMS: If the game comes down to kickers, Kansas State could have an edge. Matt McCrane is a Lou Groza Award candidate whose five 50-yard-plus field goals is tied for most in school history.