Kansas State junior tight end Ben Sinnott (34) celebrates a touchdown during the first quarter of Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown against Kansas inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. © Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Iowa State finds itself in an unfamiliar spot entering its regular-season finale at Kansas State: Seeking a rare road winning streak against the No. 19 Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in a Big 12 game that will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday and be broadcast on FOX.
Head coach Matt Campbell‘s Cyclones (6-5, 5-3) snapped a seven-game skid in Manhattan with a 33-20 triumph in 2021 — and haven’t won back-to-back games there since the 1980s when the conference was split into divisions.
The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2) are 11-point favorites and beat ISU, 10-9, in Ames last season, so expect a highly-charged atmosphere as realignment ensures that the longtime rivals won’t play each other every season for the foreseeable future.
With all that in mind, here are five Kansas State players to watch under the lights in the Little Apple:
QB Will Howard
The 6-5, 242-pound senior from Downingtown, Pa., has become one of the Big 12’s most reliable and productive play callers — and he’s surprisingly nimble with his feet considering his expansive frame. Howard’s rushed for a touchdown in consecutive wins over Baylor and Kansas and owns a 23-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a passer. He nearly rallied the Wildcats to a road win at Texas by throwing for a career-best 327 yards and four touchdowns, but they fell in overtime, 33-30, three weeks ago in Austin. Howard’s rushed for a total of eight touchdowns this season and his 23 touchdown passes rank second in the Big 12. He’s the perfect quarterback for offensive coordinator and former Kansas State star Collin Klein’s scheme, given his ability to both connect accurately downfield and move the chains (or get into the end zone) with his legs.
DE Khalid Duke
Fun fact: The 6-4, 246-pound Duke once served as a ball boy for the Atlanta Falcons. Not so fun fact for opponents: Duke boasts a career-best six sacks this season and all have come unassisted. That number ranks fourth in the Big 12 and Duke’s also forced a fumble while helping to disrupt outside runs and redirect them inside, where a good group of linebackers led by top tackler Austin Moore can clean up. Duke’s totaled exactly one-quarter of Kansas State’s sacks, so while he’s a mainstay in rushing the quarterback, he’s often joined by a host of blitzing teammates, as well.
RB DJ Giddens
The 6-1, 212-sophomore shined last season as Deuce Vaughn’s backup, amassing 518 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Unsurprisingly, Giddens is even better as the featured back now that Vaughn’s graduated into the NFL. Giddens needs 38 rushing yards to become a 1,000-yard back for the first time in his brief college career and has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in each of the Wildcats’ last two wins. But Giddens does much more than run the ball effectively. He’s tied with injured Texas star Jonathon Brooks for the league lead in receiving yards by a running back (286) and has scored 10 total touchdowns this season (eight rushing, two receiving).
CB Jacob Parrish
What the athletic Parrish lacks in terms of size (he’s listed at 5-10), he more than makes up for with tenacity and toughness. The 183-pound sophomore is tied for second in the Big 12 in pass breakups with nine and also has three interceptions. Two of those picks came in Kansas State’s furious but failed comeback bid at Texas, so he tends to perform best on the big stage. Parrish ranks fifth on the team in solo tackles with 31.
TE Ben Sinnott
The 6-4, 245-pound junior from Waterloo shares a hometown with his head coach, Chris Klieman. He’s also tied with wide receiver Phillip Brooks for the team lead in touchdown catches with five. Sinnott’s posed a significant threat both as a safety valve and in the downfield passing game in each of the past two seasons, totaling 987 yards through the air and nine touchdowns in that span. He’s caught four or more passes in seven of Kansas State’s 11 games and has scored one touchdown in each of his team’s past two wins.