MORGANTOWN - Collin Klein vs. Geno Smith. A showcase of Heisman Trophy contenders. A share of Big 12 supremacy at stake.
No. 4 Kansas State at No. 17 West Virginia has implications on several fronts.
The Wildcats (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big 12) can keep first place to themselves tonight in Morgantown while maintaining their national championship hopes.
The Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1) had similar dreams dashed at Texas Tech last week, but they still have BCS aspirations and will try to create a three-way tie atop the conference.
Smith might need one of his typical stratospheric passing games to get it done. Standing in his way is the mobile Klein, who has climbed into the Heisman Trophy discussion alongside Smith.
"It's going to be West Virginia's offense versus Kansas State's defense and vice versa," Smith said. "That's really all it comes down to."
The pair met in July at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, Smith was a superlative thrower and Klein a run-first human cannonball whose 85-yard rushing average is 1 yard better than West Virginia's top back, Andrew Buie.
"He's a cool guy," Smith said of Klein. "But I also know he's a competitor and he's going to be ready to play."
Klein says it's fun to watch Smith and "I appreciate what he does."
But "my main focus is must making sure our team is successful," Klein said. "Whatever my piece of that puzzle looks like, I'll be happy with. We are all as a team trying to prepare to play the best game that we have played - we try to do that every week. It's just another step in the journey. We've just got to make sure we do the very best we possibly can to make sure it's a good and solid step."
West Virginia has been in close games in two of its last three contests. Same for the Wildcats, who are going after their third Big 12 road win in a month after beating Oklahoma and Iowa State by less than a touchdown.
Kansas State hasn't allowed more than 21 points all season but goes up against a West Virginia team that has averaged 57 in three home contests.
Something's got to give.
"I believe we can put up a lot of points," Smith said. "But I also know that the game is not going to be easy. Those guys have a great defense and they practice hard, they're very experienced so we've got to make sure we're on the same page and come out confident and ready to ball."
Klein also could make mincemeat out of the Mountaineers defense, which has allowed an average of 52 points over the last three weeks and gave up 18 plays of 15 yards or more in the blowout loss at Texas Tech that sent West Virginia tumbling in the rankings.
"It's going to be a battle," Klein said. "I know they maybe are in a little different spot than what they expected to be going into this game. Again, we know we're going to get their best shot regardless. It's just a matter of trying to prepare the best that we possibly can during this week."
While Texas Tech's Seth Doege ripped the Mountaineers for 499 yards and six TDs, West Virginia anticipates a mixed attack from Klein, who leads the Big 12 with 10 rushing touchdowns.
"We try and junk up the box and stop the run and put more people in there, but then you are weak on the outside," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He throws it to those fast guys outside, and we have to make plays out there."
West Virginia was unable to mimic Klein in practice because the only player the Mountaineers had in mind was 6-foot-5 wide receiver Will Johnson, who has been out with a back problem. But Kansas State probably didn't have anyone on the scout team with the arm of Smith, either.
Smith is coming off his toughest outing of the season in which he was limited to one touchdown pass last week. Still, for the year, he has 25 TDs, no interceptions, a completion percentage of 75, and 379 passing yards per game. He's thrown 313 consecutive passes without an interception dating to last season - 66 shy of Russell Wilson's FBS record.
"If you keep them out of the end zone and off the field, that is a real positive thing," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.