Kansas State hoping Deuce Vaughn leads the way to top of Big 12

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State coach Chris Klieman likes to tell a story from late April or early May, back when his program was conducting a youth football camp, and he found himself watching running back Deuce Vaughn sign autographs for kids.

“We had a session that ended at 11:30 and the autographs were 11:30 to 12:00, and then there was a break for the players,” Klieman recalled with a smile. “As you can imagine, Deuce’s line was really, really long, and he stayed out there for an extra hour signing for every kid that was there, and taking pictures.”

Klieman paused for a moment, then added: “He knows the gig.”

It comes with stardom.

Vaughn is perhaps the most important player for a Kansas State team many have pegged as a dark-horse contender for the Big 12 championship. He was third in the league in rushing last season behind Baylor’s Abram Smith and Iowa State’s Breece Hall, both of whom are now making their way in the NFL, and is a preseason All-American as an all-purpose player.

“Yeah, the kid is talented,” Klieman said, “but it just doesn’t happen. It’s doing all the little things on the field, off the field, in the classroom, in the community, in the weight room, in the rehab center so that you have your body at the very best, and then doing it with an absolute smile on your face no matter what.”

The path to greatness was never a sure thing for the player associate head coach Van Malone calls “Mr. Electric.”

Coming out of Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas, Vaughn was largely overlooked by most major programs, which tends to happen when you’re a (generously listed) 5-foot-7 prospect. It didn’t matter that Vaughn had piled up yards and touchdowns like cords of firewood.

Missouri offered him a scholarship. So did Arkansas and South Florida. And if he was interested in a military career, he would have been happily accepted at the Air Force Academy and West Point.

Otherwise, his best chance to play Division I football came from Kansas State.

Turns out he had a blueprint to follow.

Back when Vaughn was just a tot, a similarly built dynamo drove south from Iowa and spent the next four years terrorizing the Big 12. Darren Sproles proceeded to rewrite just about every rushing record at Kansas State, finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting as a junior and then parlaying his senior year into a career in the NFL, where he would spend 15 years.

“I will say that ever since I was little,” Vaughn said, “I always looked at the All-American status of players, and you see all these big names and he was an All-American. He was one of the best in the nation, and that was something I always wanted to do whenever I got to this level. So to be able to achieve that is astonishing.”

Quickly earning the starting job, Vaughn ran for 642 yards and seven scores while catching 25 passes for 434 yards and two more, giving Kansas State fans a reason to celebrate amid a 4-6 record during the pandemic.

He gave them reasons on a weekly basis last season. Vaughn ran for 1,404 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 49 passes for 468 yards and four more touchdowns, and helped the Wildcats go 8-5 with a Texas Bowl win over LSU.

Vaughn ran for 146 yards against the Tigers – his sixth straight 100-yard game – and scored four TDs in all.

He won’t have to wait long to begin making a national impression this season, either.

After the Wildcats open with South Dakota on Sept. 3, they face former Big 12 rival-turned-SEC nemesis Missouri. Then, after a tune-up against Tulane, they visit ninth-ranked Oklahoma for an early conference showdown.

“It’s the work ethic that you see with Deuce,” Klieman said. “I think everybody feeds off of his work ethic, whether it’s on the field, in the classroom, in the film room, in the weight room. The kid works so hard. And then you have your younger players watching arguably your best football player put the work in on a daily basis in all these areas.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”