Kansas State and Texas A&M finished the regular season with identical records, but it doesn’t feel that way as they make final preparations for the Texas Bowl.
These are teams heading in opposite directions.
K-State finished the season with all kinds of momentum, rallying to win five of its final six games. The Wildcats started slowly, sitting 3-3 midway through with losses to Stanford, West Virginia and Oklahoma, but went out with a bang. Not only did they win five of their final six games to finish 8-4, they did so convincingly. Their last three victories were all blowouts.
They arrived in Houston on Friday eager to keep those good vibes going.
The same can’t be said for Texas A&M, which limped here after a hot start. The Aggies began the year in dream fashion, beating UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee on their way to 6-0. Not even a competitive loss at No. 1 Alabama seemed to slow them down. They were in line for a playoff berth the next week following a blowout victory over New Mexico State.
Then, everything changed. Texas A&M lost three of its final four games to finish 8-4 and looked downright bad losing 54-39 to LSU on Thanksgiving.
But that was more than a month ago. Neither team has played since early December. Will momentum play a role when the Aggies and Wildcats meet on Dec. 28 at NRG Stadium?
“We are as confident now as we were after the last game of the season,” K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz said Monday before a practice at Rice University. “Nothing really changes for us. We watch their film every day, we are getting to know them better. At this point, we have the game plan set. We are kind of perfecting everything and looking forward to it.”
The Wildcats have spent the entirety of their bowl practices hoping to maintain, and possibly add to, their momentum.
That’s not the easiest thing to do this time of year with players balancing finals, graduations, holidays, practices and travel, but K-State coach Bill Snyder likes the way his team has handled the situation.
“We have practiced well,” Snyder said. “The intensity has been good. We made some mistakes, but the players have made an effort to improve them. I think we have worked diligently since we’ve been here.”
K-State hasn’t had the best luck in recent bowl games, going 1-7 since 2002. Snyder came out of retirement in 2009 and has since guided the Wildcats to an overall record of 65-33, but his lone bowl victory during that span came in 2013 at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Veteran players remember that victory fondly and credit a string of quality practices beforehand for their success.
The Wildcats have tried to recreate that feeling this month. Warm weather and a big practice venue have helped.
“This is a great practice facility,” linebacker Trent Tanking said of Rice University’s football stadium. “We are used to high school stadiums after the last few years. It’s great to come down and practice at a college stadium like this and focus like we need to and have four great practices.”
Slow starts have plagued K-State in recent bowl losses.
So has losing momentum after a long layoff.
“Those things come into play,” Snyder said. “Having that time off can change things probably more often negatively than positively and sometimes maybe that has something to do with it.
“By the same token, nothing has changed how we approached the first game of the season and the last game of the season. It doesn’t change the way we approach this one.”
This year, time seems to have flown by since K-State’s last game.
“We are just focused on getting better,” Tanking said. “We had several practices back home. They all went well and we tried to carry over that momentum here in Houston. We are confident in ourselves.”
So is Texas A&M.
Though the Aggies haven’t beaten a power-conference team since early October, coach Kevin Sumlin seems to know how to win in the postseason. He has guided Texas A&M to three bowl victories in four tries. And the team faded late in two of those seasons.
Momentum can change quickly during bowl season.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State vs. Texas A&M
▪ When/where: 8 p.m. Wednesday at NRG Stadium, Houston
▪ TV: ESPN