MANHATTAN, Kan. – Good luck trying to figure out what's going to happen when Oklahoma State visits Kansas State.
Both teams have been a mystery this season.
The Cowboys (4-2, 1-2) picked up a good non-conference win over Boise State, rapidly rose to No. 15 in the nation and had set their sights on competing for the Big 12 title. Then, they were throttled by Texas Tech, struggled against lowly Kansas and lost a week ago to Iowa State.
Then there's the Wildcats (2-4, 0-3), who returned most of their key players from a team that won the Cactus Bowl last season. But beginning with a season-opening escape against South Dakota, the Wildcats have struggled to live up to expectations, their only win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent coming in their non-conference finale against UTSA.
"Is there frustration? For sure, a lot of it," Kansas State offensive lineman Dalton Risner said. "Is there a little bit of doubt sometimes? Yeah. A little bit of self-confidence, low self-confidence? Yeah, sometimes. But we're moving forward. We haven't taken any days off to where we're just feeling sorry for ourselves. I think that's really important."
In fact, the Wildcats had a players-only meeting last week, a rarity for Bill Snyder's program. It lasted about 30 minutes and allowed the players to "get some things off their chests," Risner said.
Now, the question is whether it translates to improvement on the field.
"If it's going to be productive, then I think it's appropriate," Snyder said. "You've got to have a great deal of trust in your players to consent, to allow that to happen — although they have control over whether they get together or not. I think it went well from what I understand."
Cowboys quarter Taylor Cornelius said no such meetings were needed in Stillwater.
"It's always got to be positive. It's like any other week of preparation," he said. "We're off of Iowa State and we're on to Kansas State, so it's just another week of preparation."
Another opportunity to rebound from a loss, too.
"We're ready to go. We want to bounce back and we know that anything is possible," Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard said. "It might've gotten off to a rough start, but we're going to finish strong."
CLOSE DOESN'T COUNT: Kansas State had a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown against Texas a couple weeks ago but couldn't move the ball in a 19-14 loss. The Wildcats also led Baylor in the fourth quarter a week ago before watching the Bears kick the winning field goal with 8 seconds left.
"Playing well for three quarters is good," Snyder said, "but doesn't get the job done."
PASS-IVE DEFENSE: Oklahoma State allowed third-string quarterback Brock Purdy to go 18 of 23 for 318 yards and four touchdowns in last week's loss to Iowa State. That would be encouraging for Kansas State if only the Wildcats had any semblance of a passing game.
"They run their quarterback a lot," Oklahoma State linebacker Justin Phillips said. "They have some big dudes up front that they utilize and tighten up a little bit. They just get behind their big guys and try to run the ball."
BEWARE THE BIG PLAY: The Cyclones managed to hit the Cowboys with several big plays, including five touchdowns of at least 20 yards.
"Defensively, we can't give up the big plays. You have to try to defend the deep ball better," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "Our guys are getting violated with our eyes, getting caught in the backfield and getting run by. We just have to tighten it down."
RUNNING BACK SHOWDOWN: In the pass-happy Big 12, good luck finding a better matchup of running backs than the Cowboys' Justice Hill and the Wildcats' Alex Barnes. Hill has four 100-yard rushing games while Barnes is coming off a 250-yard, three-touchdown effort at Baylor.
TIGHT SERIES: The last three meetings of Oklahoma State and Kansas State, and four of the last five, have been decided by six points or fewer.
"The games are always fun," Risner said. "They're a prolific offense, they put points up on the board and they're a good football team every year. It's fun playing a team like them, and they're a good team every year, so I really enjoy it."