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Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Key stretch: Kansas State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The next in our series examining the stretch of games that will make or break each team's season.

Now at bat: The Wildcats of Manhattan.

The stretch: Iowa State in Kansas City (Sept. 18), UCF (Sept. 25), Nebraska (Oct. 7) and at Kansas (Oct. 14)

The breakdown: Kansas State begins its conference schedule with three North teams and finishes with the other two, but the first stretch will have a big impact on how the remainder of the conference schedule plays out.

The matchup with Iowa State looks pretty even on paper, and last year's game came down to a blocked extra point. This year, two well-coached teams will return with two of the league's top running backs in Alexander Robinson and Daniel Thomas. It may not look as attractive as Texas Tech-Texas later that night, but the first conference game of 2010 should be a good one. This game could be as simple as most rushing yards wins, barring turnovers, but if Kansas State can get some consistent play from the quarterback position, it could win the game that, with apologies to the upcoming Nebraska-Iowa series, was christened "Farmageddon" by plenty of fans before any realignment talk surfaced.

Kansas State should beat UCF, but win or lose, it won't have a lot of effect on this particular stretch.

The Wildcats have plenty of doubters. Knock off the Huskers -- especially if they're unbeaten -- and they'll have a lot fewer in this Thursday night national broadcast on ESPN. Nebraska won't face a running game like Kansas State's in the nonconference, and after this game and Nebraska's trip to Seattle, we may have a good idea at how close the Blackshirts are to their 2009 counterparts. Shutting down Thomas -- especially if Baker Steinkuhler and Jared Crick are the guys who do it -- would quiet at least some of the "How can you be as good without Suh!?" talk.

Nebraska's run defense didn't look great against Western Kentucky, but they've got a month to fix it. I like Bo Pelini's chances of doing it.

After Kansas' debut, this looks like an easy pick, but it's a rivalry game in Lawrence, and like I wrote yesterday, don't judge a team solely by its Week 1 performance.

The Wildcats will have a great chance to put a stranglehold on the Big 12 North race early in the season. They'll start an attempt at doing it next week.

The prediction: 3-1, with a loss to Nebraska

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