Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Before the season started, Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman audaciously made headlines by saying he merited inclusion among the top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
Considering the names among the conference's aerial hierarchy, it was a bold statement.
Funny thing, however. Freeman has lived up to his boast in the first two games of the season, ranking third nationally in pass efficiency -- and only behind Oklahoma's Sam Bradford among Big 12 quarterbacks -- as he's led the Wildcats to a 2-0 start.
"Those guys play within their systems and I play within mine," Freeman said. "It's all about who comes away with victories and gets the job done on the field. I understand that winning is a big part of that and I've been sometimes overlooked as a legitimate quarterback. But I've tried to approach it this season by just getting things done on the field."
His development has been the biggest key in the Wildcats' strong start heading into their nationally-televised game at Louisville on Wednesday night.
Freeman has completed 75.6 percent of his passes, throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions. He's been responsible for nine touchdowns, running for four other scores as the Wildcats blitzed early opponents North Texas and Montana State by a combined 114-16 margin.
"I've always considered myself a strong Big 12 player," Freeman said. "With all of the hard work that we've put in and the team I think we have, our confidence was high. You'll earn respect by what you play and do during games. And that's what's I've tried to do."
Unlike the other top Big 12 passers, Freeman has worked in a pro-style passing offense during his entire career. He typically doesn't have the opportunities to pull the ball down and scamper on a zone read like many of the others in the conference.
That early experience and Freeman's mammoth 6-foot-6, 250-pound stature has NFL scouts projecting that he likely could become the most accomplished current Big 12 player at the next level. They drool about his size and rocket arm strength that have led to comparisons to Daunte Culpepper.
"I've always seen myself as a pocket passer," Freeman said. "That's what I've tried to polish and make myself best at. And I think I'm a perfect fit for the system here at Kansas State."
Freeman was thrown to the wolves in a matter of speaking, starting eight games as a true freshman. That factor alone makes him different from many quarterbacks who were allowed a more gradual ascent into college football.
But Freeman also had enough early success sprinkled with the struggles that it left him hungry for more. He dramatically won his first start in 2006 with a late TD run against Oklahoma State. He became the first quarterback since Jason White to beat Texas in back-to-back starts. And he finished with a flourish last season, even as the Wildcats cratered around him after a four-game losing streak cost them a bowl berth.
"During my early time in college, I was really using football as my area to take away the stress from being away from home. It was my happy place," Freeman said. "It was a little tough at first and I had to adjust a little bit. But I got more used to things and it's helping me mature."
Last season's late collapse left him more determined for success as a junior. Working with new quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero provided him with the tools for that growth.
"There's no doubt that he's our most improved player from last season," KSU coach Ron Prince said. "You can see he's getting more and more confident in what we're asking him to do. And he's becoming a leader for our team."
KSU WR Brandon Banks said that the Wildcats get much of their identity from having Freeman as their quarterback.
"It makes you feel really confident," Banks said. "You have time to run your route and the ability to get open and know the ball is going to get there on time. He can put the ball wherever you need it."
Freeman has thrown a touchdown pass in 13 straight games and hasn't been intercepted in his last 125 attempts. And he's primed for more heading into a game Wednesday that could make his preseason claims more apparent to a wider national audience.
"He's at a place now in his career where he's ready to round out the things he's capable of doing," Prince said. "There still are some things we haven't shown yet, but Josh is where he can contribute in a lot of different ways. And so far this season, he's taken that and done a nice job with it."