3:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Texas -17.0, Over/Under: 62.0
This Saturday will be sporting a very college hoops kind of vibe, as the (No. 24) Kansas Jayhawks travel to Austin to battle the (No. 3) Texas Longhorns in their final meeting as members of the BIG XII conference. For the second consecutive season, Kansas (4-0, 1-0 in BIG XII) has raced out to a 4-0 start, though they hope that they will be able to maintain their momentum as they head into league play. In 2022, (Head Coach) Lance Leipold’s troops looked like one of the most improved teams in the country, getting off to a scintillating 5-0 start before very nearly upsetting (National Runners-Up) TCU in a spirited 31-38 affair in Lawrence. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks lost (Starting Quarterback) Jalon Daniels for the next three games to injury, which completely robbed them of their momentum as they plummeted to a 6-7 finish. With that being said, that record marked their best since 2008, with plenty of optimism to be found around David Booth as KU was set to return seventeen starters, including ten from an offense that was its most prolific in years, logging 35.6 points per game on a healthy 7.0 yards per play. This fall, they have proven to be even more explosive, averaging 37.8 points (28th in FBS) on 463.0 total yards, which equates to 7.1 yards per play, rushing for an improved 217.8 yards on 5.5 yards per carry. Of the many returning starters, Daniels (pictured below) has been the most prominent, looking even better than he did prior to suffering that injury last year; after being held out of the season opener due to stiffness in his back, the Junior has completed a career-high 74.7% of his passes for 705 yards on 9.4 yards per attempt, with five touchdowns in comparison to just one interception. Granted, he hasn’t made as many plays with his feet that we saw him make last season, but then again, he really hasn’t had to. The run game is in good hands as (Junior Tailback) Devin Neal has carried the load with 394 yards and five touchdowns on a healthy 6.9 yards per carry, while hauling in eleven passes for 145 yards and another score to boot, with (Sophomore Tailback) Daniel Hishaw not far behind in racking up 235 yards and three more touchdowns of his own. The only real concern about Kansas this season was their habitually porous defense, which has shipped no fewer than 30.0 points per game and 400+ yards in each of the last seven seasons. In 2022, these birds were torched for 35.5 points on 469.0 total yards, though with seven returning starters this unit was expected to improve. So, how have they fared thus far, you ask? Well, there may be room for tepid optimism, folks, as the Jayhawks have relinquished a respectable 22.8 points (63rd in FBS) on 286.8 total yards, including just 93.0 yards versus the run, which is a far cry from the 209.0 they permitted last fall. Granted, it is still early, and they have yet to face any of the high-powered attacks that litter the BIG XII, but they have certainly held their own thus far. When we last saw them, it was their defense that ultimately saved them in last weekend’s 38-27 victory over BYU. Leipold must have liked what he saw on this side of the football, as the hosts limited the Cougars to a scant NINE rushing yards on twenty-two carries, logging three sacks and a season-high three turnovers, including TWO defensive scores. (Junior Cornerback) Cobee Bryant invoked his namesake and opened their ledger with a 22-yard fumble return to the house before later intercepting Kedon Slovis, while (Senior Safety) Kenny Logan returned another interception of the visiting QB thirty yards to the house on the opening drive of the second half. As for the offense, Daniels completed an efficient 14-of-19 passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns, while adding another fifty-four yards on nine carries, while Neal rushed for ninety-one yards on seventeen attempts. It goes without saying, but Kansas will need to count upon making those kinds of plays against Texas, who represent a significant step up in class from what they have faced thus far.
From a betting perspective, Kansas may be undefeated straight-up, but they have split their four outings thus far against the spread, alternating wins and losses in that regard. The Jayhawks were favored by ten points in last weekend’s victory over the Cougars, narrowly covering that line in that 11-point win. Since Leipold took over in 2021, he has posted a 13-15-1 record versus the spread, including a 4-8 mark as a road underdog, with today’s contest marking the first time this season in which they are receiving points away from Lawrence. Over their last ten games, they have covered just three of their last ten overall dating back to last season, while currently riding a four-game losing streak as a road underdog. Looking to this evening’s clash with Texas, KU has managed to cover four of their last five meetings in the series despite winning just one of them outright. When they met last year at David Booth, the Jayhawks were getting nine points and were coincidentally eviscerated in a 14-55 blowout loss. However, the last time that they encountered each other in Austin was nothing short of eventful; Leipold’s troops arrived as 31-point underdogs and promptly raced out to a surprising 35-14 halftime advantage, before the hosts managed to force overtime, where the ‘Hawks opened the extra period with a short touchdown run by the aforementioned Neal followed by a two-point conversion by (Fullback/Tight End) Jared Casey that proved to be the game-winner. Daniels was a bonafide playmaker in this one, accounting for 247 of his team’s 420 total yards, along with four total touchdowns, while Neal rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns in addition to hauling in two receptions for twenty-six yards and another score. For those wondering, it was a decisively different story for both Jayhawks in last year’s meeting, as Daniels completed 17-of-26 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, with just twelve rushing yards on two attempts, while Neal was relegated to fifty-one yards on thirteen carries and kept out of the end zone altogether. On the injury front, Kansas is largely healthy with no major absences to report. Looking ahead to the schedule, KU plays host to BIG XII newcomer UCF before hitting the road to Stillwater for a date with Oklahoma State, followed by a bye week prior to homecoming against none other than (No. 14) Oklahoma for the last time as a member of the conference.
Meanwhile, it appears that Texas (4-0, 1-0 in BIG XII) is FINALLY back, folks, and they have saved their best for last in this farewell tour of the conference that they have called home since 1996. During their stay in the BIG XII, the Longhorns have won three league titles (1996, 2005, and 2009), while securing the program’s fourth National Championship in that epic Rose Bowl showdown with USC back in 2005. However, before they make the trek to the mighty SEC next fall, they have designs on leaving their current residence as a champion. Now in his third season in Austin, (Head Coach) Steve Sarkisian has overcome the inherent growing pains of rebuilding a dormant giant and has what for all intents and purposes is the most talented group that the ‘Horns have had since advancing to the National Championship Game fourteen years ago. Following last year’s positive 8-5 finish, Coach Sark returns sixteen starters, including TEN on the offensive side of the football, which has been evident in their performance thus far. Through four games, this is a unit that has averaged 35.0 points (38th in FBS) on 432.8 total yards, including 277.0 through the air on a healthy 9.3 yards per pass. Granted, those numbers may not blow you away at the moment, but let’s keep in mind that these steers stormed into Tuscaloosa and pulled off the upset of the year thus far in a convincing 34-24 victory over (No. 3) Alabama, which marked their first meeting since that fateful BCS Title Game in 2010. There was little doubt that Texas was the better team throughout this affair, folks, as Sarkisian’s troops took it to his former employer, answering every rally that the Crimson Tide put together en route to amassing 454 total yards on twenty-three first downs, with (Sophomore Quarterback) Quinn Ewers turning in the finest performance of his career. Indeed, the Ohio State transfer was rather inconsistent in his first season with the Longhorns, but looks like a brand-new man in year two, as he torched Nick Saban’s defense for 349 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-38 passing, including the emphatic 39-yard strike to (Junior Wideout) Adonai Mitchell midway through the fourth quarter to ice the game. Through four contests, Ewers (pictured below) has completed 64.3% of his passes for 1,033 yards on 9.2 yards per attempt and has yet to toss a single interception in comparison to nine touchdowns, while rushing for another three scores to boot. The passing game is nothing short of potent in Austin, with the likes of (Juniors) Jordan Whittington, Xavier Worthy, Ja’Tavion Sanders, and the aforementioned Mitchell all racking up 10+ catches, 120+ yards, and a combined seven touchdowns. When we last saw this group, they put together their most prolific performance of the season thus far in a 38-6 drubbing of Baylor in Waco last weekend. The visitors posted a season-high 503 yards of total offense despite committing a pair of turnovers, running through the Bears like a knife through hot butter on 8.5 yards per play. Ewers peppered eighteen passes to eight different targets on twenty-three attempts for 293 yards and a touchdown, with Sanders chief among them with 110 yards on just five catches. With that being said, the ground game sprang to life in this one, churning out 175 yards and a season-high four rushing touchdowns, led by (Sophomore Tailback) Jonathan Brooks with 106 yards and a pair of scores on eighteen carries. The rushing attack was a bit of a question mark coming into this season given the departures of both (Doak Walker Award winner) Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, who were selected in last April’s NFL Draft, while (Freshman Tailback) CJ Baxter came into the campaign nursing an injury. If this group can emerge as a legitimate weapon behind one of the most experienced Offensive Lines in the country, then Sarkisian’s attack will become all the more formidable, which is vital as they have yet to encounter any of the prolific offenses that annually litter the BIG XII.
From a betting perspective, like their opponent today, Texas is also unbeaten straight-up and 2-2 against the spread thus far in 2023, alternating their four games in that regard as well. The Longhorns were favored 17.5 points in their short trip to Waco last weekend, where they hammered Baylor in that one-sided 38-6 affair. Since Sarkisian arrived in Austin, he has amassed a middling 15-14 record against the spread, including a 7-6 mark when favored by the oddsmakers at Darrell K. Royal, where they have coincidentally failed to cover in each of their two tries thus far. Dating back to last season, the ‘Horns have split their last ten games overall against the spread, while struggling to cover large lines at home, where they have netted just one win in that regard in their last five such contests. With that being said, there are a pair of trends working in favor of Ewers & Co, who are 4-0 versus the spread in their last four games after allowing less than twenty points in the previous contest, while covering EIGHT of their last ten outings when following a straight-up victory by twenty or more points. Looking at this particular matchup, Texas has owned the series, winning seventeen of the last nineteen meetings straight-up dating back to 1996, while logging an 11-8 record against the spread along the way, though have covered three of the last four encounters. After getting stunned in that previously referenced overtime extravaganza in 2021, Sarkisian’s troops gained their vengeance in last year’s 55-14 thumping in Lawrence; the visitors dominated this one, folks, running off FORTY-ONE unanswered points before the hosts finally scored late in the third quarter, en route to amassing 539 total yards, including a staggering 427 via the run, 243 of which coming courtesy of the aforementioned Robinson. For his part, Ewers didn’t need to do much, completing 12-of-21 passes for just 107 yards and a touchdown. On the injury front, Texas is also largely healthy coming into this evening’s affair, with the only notable absence being that of (Sophomore Guard) Cole Hutson, who is sidelined with an undisclosed ailment and isn’t expected to return for another three to four weeks. Looking ahead to the schedule, the Longhorns may find it hard to help themselves from looking ahead to next weekend’s annual Red River Rivalry with the Sooners, which will mark their final encounter before both schools make the transition to the SEC next season. Afterwards, they’ll enjoy a bye week before back-to-back matchups with BIG XII newcomers Houston and BYU.