Oklahoma State, ousted from title hunt late last season, out to knock K-State from BCS picture
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Oklahoma State remembers how it felt to be knocked from the BCS title hunt late in a season.
It happened to the Cowboys just late year.
They were ranked No. 2 in the country when they visited Iowa State in mid-November, and two overtimes later they headed home with a 37-31 loss that eventually relegated Oklahoma State to the Fiesta Bowl — rather than playing for a national championship.
On Saturday, the Cowboys will try to ruin No. 3 Kansas State's pursuit of perfection.
"We're thinking about practice this afternoon, meetings and practice," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said earlier this week. "I say that in all sincerity, and we try to take care of that in terms of our preparation for Oklahoma State. If there's anything else on my mind, or our coaches' minds, or our players' minds, then we're setting ourselves up, and I hope we won't do that."
So were the Cowboys setting themselves up for failure last year?
They rolled into Ames, Iowa, with 10 straight wins to start the season, and faced an unranked Cyclones team the week before the annual Bedlam game against rival Oklahoma.
It's proven to be a cautionary tale for Kansas State about refusing to look ahead.
"It's tough not to knowing you're so close but, man, you just have to focus in on next week, focus in on next game," Wildcats wide receiver Chris Harper said. "You can't look ahead. It's really hard not to look ahead, but the position that we're in, you can't do it."
The Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) enter the weekend second in the BCS standings, which are used to determine the two teams that will play for the national championship Jan. 7 in Miami.
They trail only top-ranked Alabama, which plays No. 5 LSU on Saturday, but has unbeaten teams in Oregon and Notre Dame nipping at their heels. Just about every prognosticator has crunched the numbers, and nobody is quite sure whether the Wildcats will remain No. 2 if everyone wins out.
That makes winning in style a priority, even if Snyder doesn't subscribe to that idea.
"I don't even know what a style point is," he said. "I don't have an attitude toward it. I just think you prepare and go out and play as well as you can."
Otherwise, the Wildcats could experience the same fate as Oklahoma State last season.
The Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) certainly aren't going to be intimidated going into Manhattan, Kan., where another sellout crowd is expected.
After dropping two of their first four games, including a lopsided loss at Arizona, Oklahoma State has rattled off three straight wins to get back in the conference title hunt.
If they managed to beat Kansas State, the Cowboys will pull into a tie for first place.
"Two or three weeks ago, I don't know that very many people thought we would be sitting here where we are now, going into Kansas State," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "I think people thought that we'd probably lose one of these last couple of games. But our players have continued to buy in and we've been able to get 11 guys to go out there and play and manufacture enough on offense and improve on defense and the guys have played hard. That's really all we can ask."
Gundy will have Wes Lunt will be back under center for the second straight week.
The talented freshman threw for 324 yards and a touchdown in last week's victory over TCU, his first game since sustaining a knee injury Sept. 15 against Louisiana-Lafayette. Lunt beat out J.W. Walsh, who suffered his own season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, during fall camp.
"He played really well, even more so because of the situation," Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "If it was an experienced guy like Brandon Weeden, you wouldn't compare it to that. You would probably say it was average, but for a guy who hadn't played much or practiced much, I thought he bounced back pretty well."
Of course, the Wildcats have a talented quarterback of their own.
Collin Klein has emerged as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy after outplaying West Virginia's Geno Smith and Texas Tech's Seth Doege the past two weeks.
Klein has already thrown for 1,630 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and has added another 634 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Even more astonishing, the senior is 19-4 as the starting quarterback at Kansas State.
"I don't know how you simulate him in practice. We don't have anyone that looks like him, throws like him or runs like him," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
"I don't know if you can really stop him. You just try to contain him as best as you can."