- Ivan Maisel, College Football Senior Writer
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The old saying in golf is that it's not how, but how many. There is no room for explanation on a scorecard. There's no room on a stadium scoreboard, either.
Kansas State has a note from its team doctor explaining why the Wildcats lost their last game, at home, to, gulp, Marshall. It's a genuine excuse, too. If anyone had a speck of doubt as to how good senior quarterback Ell Roberson is, or what he means to Kansas State, the answer became obvious in the 27-20 loss on Sept. 20.
He may not win the Heisman Trophy, but he could certainly make a good case to win a Most Valuable Player vote. Without Roberson, the Wildcats are just another team. With him, No. 14 Kansas State (4-1) has a good chance to win at No. 13 Texas (3-1) on Saturday afternoon.
Though the game is the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams, it has taken on added importance because of their September stumbles. A loss on Saturday ends any hope of a national championship and puts a sinkhole in each team's road to a division title.
The Longhorns suffered a 38-28 loss at home to Arkansas on Sept. 13 that revealed their susceptibility to a physical running game. Coach Bill Snyder has built Kansas State into a power on the foundation of a power running game and fast, physical defense. The latter has not been up to Snyder's standards. California threw with relative ease against the Wildcats, getting 378 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 loss on Aug. 23.
With Roberson in charge, the defensive problems could be papered over. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior has matured into the prototype of an option quarterback. He is a third running back in the Wildcat backfield, a valuable tool against any defense. His passing has improved from spotty to dangerous. Roberson has completed only 21-of-47 passes, but he has thrown for 502 yards and five touchdowns.
When Roberson suffered an injury to his left hand in the 55-14 defeat of Division I-AA McNeese State four weeks ago, he had already rushed for 251 yards, gaining 6.6 yards per carry, and four touchdowns. With senior and former walk-on Jeff Schwinn in charge, the offense became ordinary and mistake-prone.
In the second half of the loss to Marshall, Roberson pleaded with Snyder to put him back in the game. "He was not cleared by the doctors for the Marshall game,"
quarterback coach Del Miller said. "He wanted to go in. He dressed for the game. The easy thing would have been to put him in. That's not what Coach Snyder is in this for, or me."
Roberson has been cleared to play Saturday, and has been practicing at full speed. Snyder does not allow his quarterbacks to be hit during workouts, so the chance of reinjuring the hand has been minimized.
"It has been a long three weeks," Roberson said earlier this week. "The three weeks off really allowed me to rest my arm so it feels relatively fresh. I think it worked out for the best because my arm feels pretty live right now and it has felt great during practice."
When Roberson trots onto the field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium sometime after 2:30 p.m., CT on Saturday afternoon, Miller expects to see no rust. "As far as integrating him back into things, that's gone about for three weeks," Miller said. "We just couldn't put him in cold. We won't do anything different on the first drive or two, not with a quarterback like Ell. If he was a redshirt freshman, maybe. He's been there so many times in the last two years."
Snyder described Roberson as "trucking right along," which from a coach as dry as a Baptist church on New Year's Eve, is positively ebullient. Roberson has that effect on his coach, and on his offense. The onus is on Texas to slow him down. The Longhorns can run with the Wildcats.
"We will not play another team this year, unless we're in a bowl game, that has the same amount of speed," Miller said. "Their overall speed and athleticism is pretty special."
The question is whether that speed will be enough.
"What we saw Arkansas do is play a physical game and it was pretty successful with it," Miller said. The Longhorns will have to deal with physical running games until they stop one. With No. 1 Oklahoma looming one week away, Saturday would be a good time to start.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without Ell Roberson, K-State loses to Marshall at home. With him, the Wildcats have a good chance to win at Texas on Saturday.