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Getting to know: Oklahoma football

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) carries past UTEP linebacker Kalaii Griffin (7) during an NCAA college football game between UTEP and Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) carries past UTEP linebacker Kalaii Griffin (7) during an NCAA college football game between UTEP and Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) by Sue Ogrocki (AP photographer)

The University of Kansas football team has not beat Oklahoma in this century.

KU’s last win over OU came on Oct. 4, 1997, when the team claimed a 20-17 decision at home. The Jayhawks have lost the last four meetings with the Sooners by at least 37 points, failing to score more than seven points in each contest. Over that span, Oklahoma has scored at least 41 points in each outing.

This season, No. 6 Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) looks to wrap up an undefeated home schedule when it hosts Kansas (3-7, 1-6) at 6:30 p.m.

The Sooners have won 31 of their last 33 games (.939) against Big 12 opponents dating back to the 2015 season. Their only two losses during that span came at the hands of Iowa State on Oct. 7 last year (38-31 in Norman) and Texas this season (48-45 in Dallas). Eighteen of those 30 victories have been by at least 15 points, and nine by at least 30 points.

BREAKING DOWN OKLAHOMA:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Kyler Murray ranks first nationally in pass efficiency rating (212.9), yards/pass attempt (12.3), and yards/completion (17.4). This season, Murray has accounted for 39 TDs and has thrown for at least three scores in eight outings. In addition, 51 of Oklahoma’s 63 offensive touchdown drives (81 percent) have taken less than three minutes of game clock.

Running backs — Sophomore Trey Sermon has racked up 330 rushing yards and five scores over his last two outings. Sermon ranks fifth in the conference with 84.6 rushing yards per game, notching a total of 10 scores. According to Pro Football Focus, Sermon led the Big 12 last year with an averaged of 4.13 yards after contact.

Receivers — Junior Marquise Brown is Murray’s go-to option, as he ranks 13th nationally with 95.6 yards per game. Since the start of 2017, Brown leads the nation with 13 catches that have accumulated over 50 yards. Sophomore Ceedee Lamb, who has started in 22 of his 24 career games, has 87 catches for 1,584 yards and 16 scores.

Offensive line — Redshirt junior Bobby Evans has started in each of his last 36 games, and is holding down the left tackle spot. Senior Ben Powers, who is from Wichita, is the team’s starting left guard. Creed Humphrey, a redshirt freshman, is listed as the starting center. Senior Dru Samia (guard) and junior Cody Ford (tackles) are slated to take care of the right side of the offensive line.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — The defensive line is anchored by team captain Kenneth Mann, who is tied for seventh on the team with 37 tackles. Neville Gallimore is the team’s nose guard, and has also notched 37 stops. Junior Amani Bledsoe, who is a Lawrence native, has 23 tackles and four pass breakups this season.

Linebackers — Kenneth Murray, a sophomore, ranks second in the Big 12 and ranks fifth nationally with 11.4 tackles per game. The middle linebacker has 114 tackles, which is more than any Sooner since 2012. Curtis Bolton and Ronnie Perkins have also made plays alongside Murray in the linebacker unit.

Secondary — A pair of sophomores are starting at the cornerback spots, as Tre Norwood and Tre Brown are holding down the position. Senior Khalil Haugton is the team’s strong safety, while Robert Barnes is the free safety. Brendan Radley-Hiles is the the nickelback for the Oklahoma defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS — Austin Seibert, a senior, is one of three players in the nation to lead his team in punts, place kicks and kickoffs. Siebert ranks sixth in the league with an averaged of 41 yards per punt. He’s also converted an NCAA-record 287 career extra-points.

FUN FACT — OU has won 15 straight November games (last loss on Nov. 8, 2014). Since the start of the 2000 season, the Sooners are 59-11 (.843) in the month.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Oklahoma is 35-point favorites as of Saturday afternoon. The Sooners can win this game by any margin they want to, and I don’t expect they will hold back. KU hasn’t played within five scores of Oklahoma since 2013, so I’m willing to give up this many points.

Prediction: Oklahoma 49, Kansas 10

Record against spread: 7-3

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Getting to know: Louisiana basketball

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin yells to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin yells to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne) by Associated Press

After dropping from its No. 1 ranking, Kansas took care of business in its home opener.

Vermont led for much of the first half before No. 2 KU broke the game open in the second half in the eventual 84-68 win. Senior Lagerald Vick put on a clinic to lead the Jayhawks, hitting all eight of his 3-pointers in the win to set a Big 12 record for most triples without a miss.

Kansas will look to continue its early dominance when it welcomes Louisiana (1-1) tonight in Allen Fieldhouse.

“They blew out their opponent in the first game,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Against Tennessee, they actually hung in there except Tennessee went on a 16-2 run. They are capable and they are very athletic.”

Game is slated to start at 7 p.m.

Series history: This series is tied with Louisiana winning the first meeting, 54-45, on Dec. 29, 1983, and Kansas winning the most recent match-up, 96-51, on Dec. 11, 2004.

BREAKING DOWN LOUISIANA

TOP PLAYER

No. 23 — F JaKeenan Gant | 6-8, 215, sr.

Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander (11) works against Louisiana-Lafayette forward JaKeenan Gant, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 87-65. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee forward Kyle Alexander (11) works against Louisiana-Lafayette forward JaKeenan Gant, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 87-65. (AP photo/Wade Payne) by Associated Press

Gant is already off to a strong start in his senior season.

Though two games, Gant has scored a total of 37 points on a combined 16-for-24 shooting. He’s collected a total of 10 rebounds, adding in four total blocks as well. He’s done all this by playing a combined 29 minutes in two contests.

Gant, who transferred from Missouri before his junior season, averaged 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest last year. He recorded a 9.1 block rate last year, which ranked 39th in the nation via KenPom.com.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 35 — G Marcus Stroman | 6-2, 200, sr.

Tennessee forward Yves Pons (35) blocks the shot of Louisiana-Lafayette guard Marcus Stroman (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee forward Yves Pons (35) blocks the shot of Louisiana-Lafayette guard Marcus Stroman (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne) by Associated Press

Stroman has a knack for getting his teammates involved.

Through two games, Stroman has already recorded a total of 19 assists for the Rajun Cajuns. As a junior, Stroman finished second in the Sun Belt Conference in assists per game (6.5), while leading the league in assist/turnover rate (2.2).

His 213 assists during the season were the fourth-most by a Louisiana player in school history and 12th-highest total among NCAA players during the season. He registered at least 10 assists in six games, including 15 dimes at Georgia State.

No. 1 — G Malik Marquetti | 6-6, 200, sr.

Louisiana-Lafayette forward Malik Marquetti (1) dribbles past Tennessee forward Yves Pons (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 87-65. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Louisiana-Lafayette forward Malik Marquetti (1) dribbles past Tennessee forward Yves Pons (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 87-65. (AP photo/Wade Payne) by Associated Press

After an efficient outing in the opener, Marquetti settled back to earth against Tennessee.

Marquetti scored 19 points in just 20 minutes, hitting 6 of 8 attempts from the field against Virgin Islands. In the next game, however, Marquetti finished with just eight points despite attempting 13 shots in 38 minutes.

Last season, Marquetti averaged 8.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in his first campaign with Louisiana.

No. 11 — F Jerekius Davis | 6-6, 225, jr.

Louisiana Lafayette forward Jerekius Davis (11) looks to pass as Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne)

Louisiana Lafayette forward Jerekius Davis (11) looks to pass as Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP photo/Wade Payne) by Associated Press

Davis has yet to play more than 15 minutes in a game this season.

In the opener, Davis scored 14 points in 15 minutes by going 5-for-9 from the floor. He then finished with just two points in the second game of the season. Last year, Davis reached double figures in three games, including a 20-point showing at South Alabama.

No. 0 — G Cedric Russell | 6-2, 175, so.

Russell is the biggest threat from deep for the Rajun Cajuns.

Last year, Russell finished with 43.3 percentage from long range to lead the team. He converted 55 of 127 attempts from distance, drilling three or more 3-pointers in seven different games.

This year, Russell is 5-for-9 from downtown in a total of 53 minutes across two games.

ONE THING LOUISIANA DOES WELL

The Rajun Cajuns have demonstrated the ability to take care of the ball, allowing opponents to record just a 4.4 steal percentage thus far, according to KenPom. Through two games, Louisiana has also posted a turnover rate of 17.5 percentage.

ONE AREA LOUISIANA STRUGGLES

It is a small-sample size, but Kansas could have a field day on the offensive glass. Louisiana has allowed opponents to grab 35.5 percent of its offensive rebounds, which ranks 288th in the nation.

MEET THE COACH

The Ragin’ Cajuns are coached by Bob Marlin, who is 156-112 in his ninth season at UL.

VEGAS SAYS…

According to Bovada, Kansas is a 21-point favorite over Louisiana as of Friday morning. I’ve missed on the first two games of the year, but this is where I hopefully start my comeback. Unlike Vermont, Louisiana doesn’t have the 3-point shooting to keep this game close. Kansas should be in control from the start.

My prediction: Kansas 93, Louisiana 67.

Record against spread: 0-2

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Getting to know: Vermont basketball

Vermont head coach John Becker watches his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 73-69.

Vermont head coach John Becker watches his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 73-69. by Associated Press

The University of Kansas men’s basketball team is set for its home opener after downing Michigan State in the Champions Classic.

KU (1-0) led by as many 17 before claiming a 92-87 victory over MSU. Meanwhile, Vermont (1-0) trailed by 10 points in the second half before surging back to notch a 78-72 win over Boston University.

“They gave Kentucky all they wanted last year. It was a four-point game in Rupp (Arena),” KU coach Bill Self said. “They've got a good team and obviously they are very well coached. They'll run a lot of set plays, similar to what Michigan State did."

The home opener between Kansas and Vermont is slated to start at 8 p.m.

Fun fact: Ernie Duncan and his brothers Everett and Robin are all playing for the Catamounts. The Duncans are the fifth trio of brothers to play on the same Division 1 men’s basketball team in the same season.

Series history: Kansas won the only series meeting with Vermont, 68-61, on Nov. 19, 2004, in Allen Fieldhouse. The game opened the 2004-05 season for Kansas, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.

BREAKING DOWN VERMONT

TOP PLAYER

No. 3 — F Anthony Lamb | 6-6, 227, jr.

Vermont's Anthony Lamb grabs a rebound in front of Purdue's Caleb Swanigan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball tournament first round game Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Milwaukee.

Vermont's Anthony Lamb grabs a rebound in front of Purdue's Caleb Swanigan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball tournament first round game Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Milwaukee. by Associated Press

In the season opener, Lamb demonstrated his ability to perform as the team’s go-to option.

Lamb led the Catamounts with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win over Boston University. It was an important showing, as Vermont lost three seniors from last year’s squad, including a two-time league player of the year.

Last season, Lamb averaged 14.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game during an injury-plagued sophomore season. Lamb, who is considered an NBA prospect, should figure to be a focal point of this offensive attack all year.

None by UVM Men's Basketball

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 20 — G Ernie Duncan | 6-3, 190, r-sr.

Vermont's Ernie Duncan, left, looks for an opening against Kentucky's Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.

Vermont's Ernie Duncan, left, looks for an opening against Kentucky's Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. by Associated Press

Duncan is coming off a 19-point outing, in which he shot 6 of 13 from the floor for the Catamounts.

As a junior, Duncan averaged 10.8 points per game to go along with 2.2 assists per contest. Duncan is expected to embrace a larger role this year, which led to his selection on the America East preseason all-conference team.

Duncan is the program’s all-time leader in career 3-pointer percentage with a clip of 41.3 percent from deep. He netted a trio of three points in 11 different contests last season, leading Vermont with 66 triples a year ago. In fitting fashion, Duncan’s first basket for Vermont was a 3-pointer.

None by Alex Abrami

No. 21 — G Everett Duncan | 6-6, 192 r-jr.

Kentucky's P.J. Washington, top, shoots between Vermont's Payton Henson (35) and Everett Duncan during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky's P.J. Washington, top, shoots between Vermont's Payton Henson (35) and Everett Duncan during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. by Associated Press

In the opener, Duncan was one of two starters to not finish with double figures.

Duncan was one of three Vermont players to play in all 35 games last year, as he notched 34 starts. He finished second all-time in single-season 3-point percentage last season with a rate of 47.2 from long range. He netted 51 3-pointers last year, which was second behind his older brother.

In high school, Everett passed his older brother Ernie as Evansville Harrison’s all-time leading scorer.

No. 0 — G Stef Smith | 6-1, 170, sr.

Smith poured in a career-high 22 points to lead the way for the Catamounts, who play their first two games on the road.

During Friday’s win, Smith finished 7 of 15 from the floor and helped lead the way for a late comeback. As a freshman, Smith was named to the America East all-rookie team after playing in 34 games. Smith is second among returning players in assists per game.

No. 15 — F Ra Kpedi | 6-9, 220, sr.

The team's tallest starter is Kpedi, who only played 17 minutes in the first game of the regular season due to foul trouble.

Kpedi will have a tough time matching Kansas’ post preseason in Allen Fieldhouse. Against Boston University, Kpedi claimed six rebounds and netted one basket on 1-for-2 shooting from the floor.

ONE THING VERMONT DOES WELL

Vermont can thrive in its half-court sets, hitting 61.3 percent of its 2-point shots in the season opener. Last year, the Catamounts ranked 13th in the nation in 2-point percentage by hitting 55.5 percent of such shots.

ONE AREA VERMONT STRUGGLES

The Catamounts do not have the size to slow down someone like Udoka Azubuike. The team’s tallest player that received minutes in the season opener was 6-foot-9. Kansas can exploit this mismatch early and often to get the crowd into it.

MEET THE COACH

John Becker, who is in eighth season at the helm, is the first coach in program history to lead Vermont to seven consecutive 20-win seasons in the first seven years. Becker is third in the all-time winningest coaches in school history with a 167-77 record for the Catamounts.

VEGAS SAYS…

Still haven’t got over KU failing to cover -5.5 down the stretch against Michigan State, but hopefully I rebound with my pick today. According to OddsShark, Kansas is a 19.5-point favorite as of Monday morning. That seems like a lot of points, but the Jayhawks should win this game by as much as they want to. Vermont, which is ranked No. 123 on KenPom, is the second-worst team KU will face this season.

My prediction: Kansas 90, Vermont 67.

Record against spread: 0-1

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Getting to know: Kansas State football

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense (13) chases down Kansas State running back Alex Barnes (34) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas cornerback Hasan Defense (13) chases down Kansas State running back Alex Barnes (34) during the second quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

For the first time since 2009, the University of Kansas football team enters the Sunflower Showdown with a record equal to or better than Kansas State.

Coming into Saturday’s clash between in-state rivals in Manhattan, both KU and K-State boast identical clips with a 3-6 overall record, including 1-5 in conference play. The Wildcats have won the last nine meetings with the Jayhawks, posting an average margin of victory of 24.4 points per contest over that span.

“I have so much respect for (Snyder), he does such a terrific job,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. “They have battled in every single game, they have just come up on the other end of it. Those things could go the other way in a heartbeat.”

The Jayhawks have appeared to close the gap as of late, dropping the previous two meetings with the Wildcats by two scores in each outing. Last season, K-State pulled away late in a 10-point win over Kansas in Lawrence.

Kansas travels to Kansas State at 11 a.m. Saturday.

BREAKING DOWN KANSAS STATE:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — It remains uncertain who will be under center for the Wildcats this weekend. Skylar Thompson sustained an injury in the first quarter of last week’s loss at TCU. Alex Delton, who is dealing with a nagging leg injury, finished the game for K-State. Thompson has thrown for 995 yards this season, while Delton has 428 passing yards in 2018.

Running backs — Junior running back Alex Barnes is leading the Big 12 in rushing with 918 yards on the ground. Barnes, who has 174 carries this season, is also pacing the conference with nine rushing touchdowns. Barnes hasn’t been used much in the passing game, catching 15 passes on the year. In fact, Kansas State has run the ball on over 62 percent of its offensive snaps this season.

Receivers — Due to their commitment to the run game, the Wildcats don’t boast exceptional numbers in the passing attack. Still, junior Isaiah Zuber has 41 receptions for 496 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Dalton Schoen has netted 24 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Zuber is seven catches shy of tying for ninth in school history for a career.

Offensive line — Senior Dalton Risner anchors the offensive line at the right tackle spot and is on his way to being a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Risner has started 47 games in his career, which is the third-most by a K-State lineman since 1989. Junior Tyler Mitchell is the right guard, while senior Abdul Beecham is the left guard. Junior Adam Holtorf is the team’s starting center, and junior Scott Frantz is the left tackle.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — Juniors Reggie Walker and Kyle Ball are the two starting defensive ends for the Wildcats. Walker ranks sixth in the Big 12 in sacks and is tied for 10th in tackles for loss. Junior Trey Dishon, who has started all 34 games in his career, racked up four stops against TCU last week. Jordan Mittie, who is the son of K-State women’s basketball coach Jeff Mittie, is also slated to start at defensive tackle.

Linebackers — A number of athletic players make up the linebacker unit for the Wildcats. Junior Da’Quan Patton ranks second on the team in tackles, recording at least four stops in every game this year. Sullivan did not play against TCU, but made five stops at West Virginia. Sam Sizelove made his four starts in 2018.

Secondary — Senior Duke Shelley, the team’s top corner, has not played in the last two games with a right leg injury. Sophomore AJ Parker holds down the other cornerback spot, while sophomore Waler Neil Jr. is the team’s nickelback. Junior Denzel Goolsby is the team’s starting strong safety, while senior Kendall Adams is the free safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS — The special teams unit, a staple for Kansas State in years past, has been struggling this season. Junior Isaiah Zuber has handled returning duties for the Wildcats, fumbling a punt return against TCU. Sophomore kicker Blake Lynch missed an extra point in the fourth quarter of a 14-13 loss to the Horned Frogs.

FUN FACT — Bill Snyder hasn’t lost to Kansas in Manhattan since his first season in 1989. A win on Saturday would give Snyder his 23rd win over the Jayhawks in the last 27 meetings when he is on the sidelines. The 23 wins would be the most by all active head coach over any one opponent.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Kansas State is a 10.5-point favorite over Kansas as of Friday afternoon. During this nine-game win streak in the Sunflower Showdown, the Wildcats have won all but one game by more than 10 points. Yet it doesn’t appear either team is built to run away with this one, regardless of who wins. I’ll take the points, despite what recent history would suggest.

Prediction: Kansas State 24, Kansas 21

Record against spread: 6-3

Reply 2 comments from Dirk Medema Dane Pratt

Champions Classic highlights opening-night picks

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) drives against Washburn forward Will McKee (23) during the first half of an exhibition, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) drives against Washburn forward Will McKee (23) during the first half of an exhibition, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

College basketball season is officially back.

The Champions Classic rightfully will get much of the attention tonight, though plenty of programs will begin the 2018-19 season tonight. After having to wait 216 days, people can finally bet on college basketball again.

During the season, I’ll try to highlight some of my favorite bets and the hope is the results will be better as I become more familiar with the teams. It won’t always be picks against the spread, however, as some picks will feature the best over/under totals to target.

With that being said, let’s dive straight into my favorite picks for tonight’s action. All numbers are based on Bovada as of Tuesday morning.

Kansas (-5.5) vs. Michigan State

In my preview, I already picked Kansas to cover so I won’t include that. However, the best bet of the game would be to take the under. The frontcourt might be the strength of both teams, while the two programs also rank in the top-23 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. In addition, the Jayhawks and their opponent have failed to score a combined 156 points in each of the previous four matchups in the Champions Classic.

Pick: Under 156

Kentucky (-1.5) vs. Duke

The nightcap of the Champions Classic is receiving plenty of buzz, as both teams enter the season ranked inside the top-four of the AP poll. As you can tell by the spread, this game is a coin flip. But Kentucky head coach John Calipari having a veteran team is sort of like living in the Upside Down on Stranger Things. I think that’s the difference in the season opener, and Stanford transfer Reid Travis will be an immediate factor for the Wildcats.

Pick: Kentucky wins

Florida a Florida State (-4)

This is a perfect showdown for the opening night of the college hoops season. There is plenty to like about No. 17 Florida State, which returns seven players who averaged double-figure minutes during last season’s unprecedented Elite Eight run. Over the last two seasons, the Seminoles have boasted a nation’s best .939 percentage at home.

Pick: Florida State covers

BYU at Nevada (-13)

There is so much preseason love for Nevada, which returns plenty of production from last year’s Sweet 16 teams and is ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll. That being said. BYU is no push over after returning four starters from last year’s squad. Sagarin predicts a seven-point win for the Wolfpack, and I also think this game will be closer than Vegas would indicate.

Pick: BYU covers

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Getting to know: Michigan State basketball

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo directs his defense as Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20) guards Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo directs his defense as Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20) guards Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Kansas enters the 2018-19 season as the No. 1 team in the country in just about every important preseason poll.

Tuesday night is the first official chance for the Jayhawks to back up those lofty expectations, as they square off with No. 10 Michigan State in the eighth annual State Farm Champions Classic at 6 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“They’re better than a top-10 program,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “You’ve got (Nick) Ward, (Cassius) Winston and (Joshua) Langford who are probably going to play as many minutes as any three starters in the country over the past three years.”

Kansas is 3-4 in the Champions Classic with two wins against Duke and one over Kentucky. The Jayhawks have won their last two Champions Classic contests. KU is 0-2 against Michigan State in the Champions Classic after losing by 67-64 in 2012 and dropping a 79-73 decision in 2015.

“It’s the beginning of the season,” junior center Udoka Azubuike said. “The fans are excited, everyone wants to see what Kansas can do. That tournament really helps us as a team. When you guard them, you play your heart out, it really helps us, for the season, going forward.”

Fun fact: No. 10 Michigan State will be the highest ranked team Kansas will play to open the season since No. 2 KU defeated No. 8 Utah, 79-68, on Nov. 25, 1995, at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.

Series history: Michigan State leads 7-6. Kansas has won two of the last three meetings, including a 90-70 win in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in 2017.

BREAKING DOWN MICHIGAN STATE

TOP PLAYER

No. 5 — PG Cassius Winston | 6-1, 185, jr.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) look to trap Michigan State guard Cassius Winston (5) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

An argument could certainly be made for Nick Ward, but Winston is listed as the team’s top player ahead of this game after being the only Spartan to make the Citizen Naismith Trophy men's watch list.

Winston has demonstrated elite vision as a passer since he joined the Spartans. Last year’s clip of 6.9 assists per game ranked eighth in the country. According to KenPom.com, Winston has boasted the second-best assist rate in all of college basketball during each of his two seasons at Michigan State.

In addition, Winston showed strides on defense as well as his 3-point shot last year. In his sophomore season, Winston improved his efficiency from long range by almost 12 percentage points. Winston will look to take another huge step as a junior after averaging 12.6 points per contest last year.

None by Rob Dauster

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 44 — C Nick Ward | 6-9, 245, junior

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) fights for a rebound with Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Lagerald Vick (2) fights for a rebound with Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

Ward is back to take another step for the Spartans, who lack a superstar after losing Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA.

This past offseason, Ward also tested the NBA waters to learn he had to develop his game some more. As a sophomore, Ward averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Ward paced the Big Ten in field goal percentage, shooting 64.8 percent from the floor. He also posted the top offensive rebounding percentage (18.2) in the nation, according to KenPom.com.

However, Ward has yet to show the ability to score outside of the low-post area at a consistent rate. He also has well-documented struggles with his ball-screen defense, which is something the Jayhawks can exploit in the season opener.

No. 1 — SG Joshua Langford | 6-5, 210, jr.

Michigan State guard Joshua Langford (1) turns back after hitting a shot against Miami during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Michigan State guard Joshua Langford (1) turns back after hitting a shot against Miami during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Langford played 32 minutes, recording 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting during Michigan State’s second-round loss to Kansas in 2017.

“I think more of what we take from that game is we kind of owe Kansas one,” Langford told Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News. “I think everyone is on the same page and we are a good enough team, a great enough team to win this game.”

Last season, Langford averaged 11.7 points per game and made over 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. He has shown the ability to take over games, scoring 23 points against North Carolina last season. Langford also is a consistent defender on the perimeter.

No. 25 — PF Kenny Goins | 6-7, 230, sr

Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) gets up to defend against a shot by Miami center Ebuka Izundu (15) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is Miami guard Ja'Quan Newton (0).

Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) gets up to defend against a shot by Miami center Ebuka Izundu (15) during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At right is Miami guard Ja'Quan Newton (0). by Nick Krug

Goins has endured a lot on his path from walk-on to starter for the Spartans.

In his collegiate career, Goins has had to deal with three knee injuries, two broken noses and a sports hernia surgery. Last year, Goins played 13.9 minutes per game, averaging 2.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest.

No. 20 — SF Matt McQuaid | 6-5, 200, sr

Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20) drives to th bucket during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Michigan State guard Matt McQuaid (20) drives to th bucket during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

McQuaid, who started a pair of games last year, is a co-captain for Michigan State along with Langford.

Last season, McQuaid was one of the team’s most efficient shooters from deep, hitting over 39 percent of his triples. He averaged 20 minutes per contest, posting a clip of 6.0 points per outing for the Spartans.

ONE THING MICHIGAN STATE DOES WELL

It is too early to tell what the Spartans’ strength will be, given they played just one public exhibition game. According to KenPom, Michigan State has the ninth-best adjusted offensive efficiency (112.7) in the nation heading into the regular season. The Spartans haven’t been listed in the top-10 in that category since 2016 when they ranked No. 2 in that area.

ONE AREA MICHIGAN STATE STRUGGLES

After losing Bridges and Jackson, Michigan State enters the newest season without a clear star. Winston, Ward and Langford will be asked to embrace even bigger roles this year, which may take some time to get used to.

MEET THE COACH

Michigan State is coached by Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Tom Izzo who is 574-225 entering his 24th season at MSU. Under Izzo, Michigan State has advanced to seven Final Fours, winning the 2000 NCAA title.

VEGAS SAYS…

According to Bovada, Kansas is a 5-point favorite over Michigan State in the season opener. Both teams lost key players from last year, and enter this matchup with plenty of things to figure out about each roster. In the end, though, I side with the Jayhawks’ talent. I also think Bill Self will defer to using Dedric Lawson more on the perimeter, similar to Svi’s role last year. He can figure out his two-big lineup against the teams like Vermont and Wofford.

My prediction: Kansas 82, Michigan State 73.

Reply 1 comment from Robert  Brock

Getting to know: Iowa State football

 Iowa State defensive back Braxton Lewis (33) celebrates with teammate Willie Harvey (2) after an interception in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Iowa State defensive back Braxton Lewis (33) celebrates with teammate Willie Harvey (2) after an interception in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The University of Kansas football team will look to keep things rolling after defeating TCU last week.

Kansas (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) will not have an easy task, as it welcomes a red-hot Iowa State (4-3, 3-2) team to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The Cyclones won all three of their games in October, including a pair of victories over ranked foes.

“Getting that first Big 12 win for the season under our belt was big,” KU head coach David Beaty said. “We have to make that kind of a pillar. I said that a few years ago when we played Texas. Those games can be pillars that you can talk back on, say that was one of the big turning points if you continue to build on it. If you don’t, it becomes a game that you played.”

Kansas plays host to Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday.

BREAKING DOWN IOWA STATE:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Iowa State is a completely different team with freshman Brock Purdy under center. The Cyclones are 4-0 when Purdy plays and 2-0 in his starts. Purdy has thrown for 822 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He has also rushed for 169 yards and one score on 45 carries. Perhaps Purdy’s greatest weapon, however, is ability to fool the defense with his pump fake.

None by Max Olson

Running backs — The Cyclones have one of the most talented running backs in the nation, as David Montgomery had recorded four consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts. Montgomery leads the Big 12 with 108 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. He has also scored a touchdown in five consecutive games. Montgomery also has a knack for shedding defenders, forcing 11 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus, during the team’s win over Texas Tech last weekend.

None by Max Olson

Receivers — A trio of Deshaunte Jones, Hakeem Butler and Matthew Eaton have started all seven games for the Cyclones. Only four players caught a pass against Texas Tech, in which Butler netted 148 receiving yards. In his career, Butler is averaging 18.7 yards per reception, which is the best clip in school history.

Offensive line — Juniors Julian Good-Jones and Collin Olson are expected to make up the left side at tackle and guard, respectively. Freshman Colin Newell has started every game at center other than the season opener against Iowa. Juniors Josh Knipfel (guard) and Bryce Meeker (tackle) will hold things down on the right side.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — Iowa State has been a trend setter by adopting a three-man defensive front before other Big 12 teams followed suit. Junior JaQuan Bailey leads the team in TFL (10.5), sacks (5.5) and has 24 tackles to lead all down linemen. Matt Leo will replace Enyi Uwazurike, who has been the starter all year before sustaining a hamstring injury. Ray Lima recorded six tackles against Texas Tech in his first game back from a concussion.

Linebackers — Junior Marcel Spears, the team’s weak-side linebacker, claimed two interceptions, including a pick-six against Texas Tech. Senior Willie Harvey is coming off an eight-tackle performance. Freshman Mike Rose, meanwhile, has started all seven contests at middle linebacker. Braxton Lewis, who is the team’s “star” in this defense, tallied seven stops against Texas Tech last week.

Secondary — Seniors Brian Peavy and D'Andre Payne are holding down the two starting cornerback spots. Peavy paced the squad with nine tackles against the Red Raiders. Sophomores Greg Eisworth (strong safety) and Lawrence White (free safety) are slated to operate from the two safety spots.

SPECIAL TEAMS — Sophomore kicker Connor Assalley missed a field goal last week, and is now 9 of 12 for the season and 19 of 20 on point-after attempts. Sophomore punter Corey Dunn averaged just 37.5 yards per punt last week. Sophomore Kene Nwangwu is the team’s kick returner, while junior Deshaunte Jones handles punt return duties.

FUN FACT — Iowa State has an active streak of a safety in three-straight games, which is the first time in program history as well as Big 12 history. In fact, it has not happened to an FBS team since 1996 when Stats Inc. began collecting data.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Iowa State is a 15-point favorite as of Friday afternoon. The Cyclones have defeated only one opponent by at least 15 points in 2018. However, they have done so against the Jayhawks in four of the previous six meetings between these two teams. In the end, it comes down to the ISU offense being better behind Purdy as to why I’m willing to give up that many points again.

Prediction: Iowa State 31, Kansas 14

Record against spread: 5-3

Reply 2 comments from Dane Pratt

Getting to know: TCU football

Kansas head coach David Beaty, left, and TCU head coach Gary Patterson bump fists during a meeting with game officials about a running clock the fourth quarter because of inclement weather approaching the stadium, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.

Kansas head coach David Beaty, left, and TCU head coach Gary Patterson bump fists during a meeting with game officials about a running clock the fourth quarter because of inclement weather approaching the stadium, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. by Nick Krug

For the first time in a month, University of Kansas football team returns home.

Kansas (2-5, 0-4 Big 12) is slated to take on TCU (3-4, 1-3) this weekend at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks are coming off a 48-16 loss to Texas Tech, while the Horned Frogs dropped a 52-27 decision to Oklahoma.

“Coach (Gary) Patterson, can’t say enough about him,” head coach David Beaty said. “He’s going to find a way now. He’s one of them guys that it just seems like things could be going crazy around him and he finds a way to settle it down. So we definitely know we’ve got to get ourselves ready to go this weekend.”

Kansas plays host to TCU at 2 p.m. Saturday.

BREAKING DOWN TCU:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Sophomore Shawn Robinson, who started the previous seven games, is out for the year after a season-ending shoulder injury. As a result, sophomore Michael Collins will make his Big 12 starting debut against the Jayhawks. Collins, a transfer from Penn, originally came to TCU as a walk-on. Collins threw two touchdowns in his three minutes of action against Oklahoma.

Running backs — The Horned Frogs are led by junior Darius Anderson in the run game. Anderson is averaging 6.1 yards per carry in his career, which ranks fourth in TCU history. Earlier this season, Anderson recorded the longest touchdown run in program history with a 93-yard score against Ohio State. Junior Sewo Olonilua and sophomore Emari Demercado provide depth in the backfield.

Receivers — As a sophomore, Jalen Reagor is leading the unit with a team-high 38 catches for 465 yards and four scores through the first seven weeks. Senior Jarrison Stewart has caught 11 of his 12 passes over the previous four weeks. Senior KaVontae Turpin is second on the team with 29 grabs, and ranks eighth in school history with 145 career catches.

Offensive line — On the left side of the offensive line, juniors Anthony McKinney (tackle) and Cordel Iwuagwu are slated to get the start. Sophomore Kellton Hollins, a team captain, is the starting center for TCU. Senior Chris Gaynor and junior Lucas Niang are expected to hold down the right guard and right tackle spot, respectively. TCU has run the ball on 51.9 percent of its snaps behind this unit.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — Senior left end Ben Banogu is the focal point of this four-man defensive line. Banogu was named the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, and has recorded 4.5 sacks this season. Sophomore Corey Bethley and redshirt freshman Terrell Cooper hold down the defensive tackle spots. Senior Ty Summers, who has 310 career tackles, is the defensive end on the right side.

Linebackers — A pair of quick defensive playmakers make up this unit. Senior Arico Evans is fourth on the team with 31 stops this year, recording a career-best 10 tackles at Texas. Sophomore Garret Wallow, who is a converted safety, is leading the defense with 52 tackles through seven games. TCU tops the Big 12 and is 12th nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 29.9 percent of the time.

Secondary — TCU has a number of contributors in the secondary, including Niko Small at free safety. The senior has made 27 career starts, notching 148 career tackles in his career. Junior Innis Gaines and senior Ridwan Issahaku also operate from the safety position. Juniors Julius Lewis and Jeff Gladney are the starting cornerbacks for TCU. The Horned Frogs allow 186.4 passing yards per game, which is the best mark in the Big 12.

SPECIAL TEAMS — KaVontae Turpin is a game-changing playmaker in the return game. He leads the nation this season in punt return average, and is the only player in the nation with a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown. Jonathan Song has made 12 of his 14 career field goal attempts, including a 4-for-6 mark this season.

FUN FACT — In 18 seasons with Gary Patterson as the head coach, TCU is 111-5 when allowing 17 points or less. Kansas has been held to 17 points or fewer in two of its first seven games in 2018.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, TCU is a 13.5-point favorite over Kansas as of Friday afternoon. TCU has won only one of its previous five meetings with Kansas by at least 14 points, which came during last year’s 43-0 victory. Still, the Jayhawks will not be able to score enough to keep this game within two touchdowns.

Prediction: TCU 35, Kansas 14

Record against spread: 5-2

Reply 4 comments from Dane Pratt West_virginia_hawk Robert  Brock Dirk Medema

Getting to know: Texas Tech football

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury calls a play from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury calls a play from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

After a bye week, the University of Kansas football team will look to capture its first conference win.

Kansas (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) is slated to take on Texas Tech (4-2, 2-1) this week. The Jayhawks have dropped their last 11 meetings with the Red Raiders. Texas Tech claimed a 65-19 win over Kansas during last year’s meeting in Lawrence. The Red Raiders are coming off a 17-14 win over TCU.

“It’s going to be a great challenge going down there, but I know our guys are excited to go down there,” head coach David Beaty said. “We feel good about the game plan and the things we can do to take advantage of, so we’re looking forward to going down there and bringing back a victory.”

Kansas travels to Texas Tech at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

BREAKING DOWN TEXAS TECH:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — True freshman Alan Bowman’s performance through four starts ranks among the most impressive debuts in program history. But Bowman missed last week due to an injury he sustained against West Virginia. In his place, sophomore Jett Duffey completed 13 of 24 passes for 190 yards against TCU. Junior McLane Carter also started the season opener.

Running backs — In four starts, freshman Ta’Zhawn Henry has rushed for 274 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 attempts. Demarcus Felton, a senior, has carried the ball 45 times for 214 yards and four scores. Felton recorded a 130-yard performance on 14 attempts against Oklahoma State, while Henry accumulated 111 yards on 24 carries against Houston.

Receivers — Junior Antoine Wesley has started all six games for the Red Raiders, hauling in 41 catches for 703 yards and five touchdowns. In four starts. Ja’Deion High has caught 32 balls for 484 yards and three scores. Four other receivers have caught at least 13 passes for the Red Raiders, who rank second in the nation in passing offense with an average of 373.3 yards per game.

Offensive line — Last season, Texas Tech had one of the youngest offensive lines in the country. Behind five returning starters, the Red Raiders have kept all three of their quarterbacks upright against three of the top pass rushing teams in the country in the last month. Travis Bruffy, Madison Akamonu, Paul Stawarz, Jack Anderson and Terence Steele have started 15 of the previous 17 outings for Texas Tech.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — Sophomore Eli Howard, sophomore Joseph Wallace and junior Roderick Washington make up the defensive line for the Red Raiders. Washington, who has started all six games, has notched 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. Howard has made five starts, recording 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks for Texas Tech.

Linebackers — Senior Dakota Allen and junior Jordyn Brooks have started all six contests in the linebacker unit for Texas Tech. Allen has tallied 45 total tackles from his spot, while recording four quarterback hurries. Allen has made 3.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage as well. Brooks has registered 37 tackles and logged one interception. Seniors Kolin Hill and Tony Jones will be used this weekend as well.

Secondary — Senior John Bonney is the lone defensive back to have started in all six games. The safety has forced a fumble and recorded one pass breakup, while recording 19 total tackles. Senior Jah’Shawn Johnson holds down the other safety spot for the Red Raiders. Freshman Adrian Frye and sophomore Damarcus Fields are the two starting corners, while junior Douglas Coleman is the team’s nickelback.

SPECIAL TEAMS — Texas Tech has the same four specialists from 2017, including kicker Clayton Hatfield and punter Dominic Panazollo. Hatfield is currently tied for sixth all-time with 40 career field goals. He’s hit 40 of 48 field goal attempts over his career, which is good for an .833 average. Panazzolo has limited opponents to just three returns this year over his 30 punts.

FUN FACT — Opponents are only converting 31.5 percent of third-down attempts this season, which ranks 20th in the nation and second in the Big 12. The Red Raiders ranked 92nd in the country and last among Big 12 schools in that category a year ago.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Texas Tech is an 18-point favorite over Kansas as of Friday afternoon. The Jayhawks have lost all three conference games by an average margin of 18.3 points per contest. The Red Raiders, meanwhile, have beat the Jayhawks by at least 18 in three of their last five meetings. I’m willing to give up that many points in this one.

Prediction: Texas Tech 42, Kansas 17

Record against spread: 4-2

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Spk15 Eeakins1

Getting to know: West Virginia football

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) scrambles for a long run between Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) and Kansas linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. (47) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) scrambles for a long run between Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. (2) and Kansas linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. (47) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

The University of Kansas football team will have a tough test this weekend.

Kansas (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) travels to No. 9 West Virginia (4-0, 2-0) for the third conference game of the season. KU is coming off a 48-28 loss to Oklahoma State, while WVU claimed a 42-34 win over Texas Tech last weekend.

“We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us, but we’re looking forward to it,” head coach David Beaty said. “We feel like we’ve got some things shored up, and we’re going to go up to West Virginia and plan on having a fun day.”

The Mountaineers are averaging 42.3 points per game, which is good for 21st in the nation. They have the ninth-best total offense in all of college football, averaging 531.3 offensive yards per game. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, are boasting the top turnover margin (2.40) in the FBS this season.

Kansas travels to West Virginia at 11 a.m. Saturday.

BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA:

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Entering the season, senior Will Grier was a serious Heisman candidate. His numbers are certainly prolific through four games, as he thrown for 1,487 yards and 17 touchdowns on 136 attempts. Grier leads the nation in touchdowns per game, while ranking fifth in the nation with a .747 completion percentage.

Running backs — As a team, West Virginia is averaging 158.5 rushing yards per game. The backfield features four different options, as “or” is listed three different times on the team’s depth chart. Juniors Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway are the top two options, combining for 436 yards on a total of 71 carries between the two players. True freshman Leddie Brown is averaging 47.2 yards per game.

Receivers — The Jayhawks will have their hands full trying to slow down this passing attack, particularly the strength of the receiving unit. Senior David Sills V has 23 catches for 294 yards and five scores. He needs four more touchdowns to tie Tavon Austin for second place on the all-time list. Marcus Simms (24) and Garry Jennings Jr. (22) have also caught at least 22 passes for 433 yards and 311 yards, respectively.

Offensive line — Senior Yodney Cajuste continues to hold down the left tackle spot on West Virginia’s offensive line. Sophomore Josh Sills is slated to start at left guard, and junior Matt Jones is the team’s starting center. Junior Colton McKivitz is expected to start at right tackle. Those four players have combined to make 80 career starts. Chase Behrndt or Joe Brown will be inserted at right guard.

DEFENSE

Defensive line — Junior Reese Donahue and senior Jabril Robinson are expected to hold down the defensive end spots. Senior Kenny Bigelow Jr. has been the team’s starting nose tackle through four games. As a team, West Virginia has recorded eight sacks in four outings. Both defensive ends have been credited with one sack thus far.

Linebackers — JoVanni Stewart, Dylan Tonkery and David Long Jr. make up the linebacker unit for the Mountaineers. Long is leading the team with 46 total tackles, including 8.5 stops for a loss. Tonkery is third on the team in tackles with 21, and has forced a fumble. West Virginia is allowing 17.8 points per game, which is good for 20th in the nation.

Secondary — Juniors Keith Washington Jr. and Josh Norwood are slotted in at the cornerback spots. Toyous Avery Jr., Dravon Askew-Henry and Kenny Robinson Jr. are also involved in the secondary. Askew-Henry, who has 43 career starts under his belt, has recorded 176 total career tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS — Kicker Evan Staley and punter Billy Kinney lead the special teams in 2018. Staley is 3 of 5 on field goals attempts, and ranks No. 8 in Big 12 overall scoring. Kinney has only punted nine times this season, in which he has averaged 41.4 yards per punt.

FUN FACT — The Kansas defense will have the tough task of trying to get WVU off the field. West Virginia is converting 59 percent (27 of 46) of its third-down attempts this season. That is the best clip in the conference and ranks No. 4 in the nation.

VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, West Virginia is a 28-point favorite over Kansas as of Friday afternoon. That may seem like a lot of points, but the Mountaineers have an average margin of victory of 32.6 points over their last three meetings with the Jayhawks. As a result, I’m willing to sacrifice that many points in this one.

Prediction: West Virginia 49, Kansas 14

Record against spread: 4-1

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