Want to see a Kansas State football player turn into a robot?
Ask him about the challenge of ending the season with road games against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Ask him about K-State’s chances of reaching college football’s first playoff. Ask him about anything other than the next game. Then watch the transformation begin.
Six K-State football players spoke with media this week, and all of them gave similar, monotone answers to big-picture questions, almost as if they were programmed to do so by coach Bill Snyder himself.
“It has been ingrained in our minds,” senior linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “We are always looking at the game in front of us. The other games do not matter if you do not win the game right in front of you. You just cannot overlook them. We are just very focused on our preparation for this Saturday.”
It’s a good thing the Wildcats ignore the big picture, because examining it for too long might feel overwhelming.
As hard as it will be for No. 9 K-State to beat No. 6 TCU on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, the remaining games — at No. 24 West Virginia and No. 10 Baylor, sandwiched around a home game with Kansas — will be every bit as difficult. The Wildcats may have the hardest closing schedule in college football.
K-State is one of two teams currently ranked in the Top 25 polls that has three ranked opponents remaining on its schedule. The other is Alabama, which must still travel to No. 14 LSU and No. 1 Mississippi State before playing host to No. 2 Auburn.
When asked about K-State’s challenging upcoming schedule, Snyder said he could not recall a harder finish in all his years as coach.
“It certainly is a challenge. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Snyder said. “How we respond to it will give us some indication. I think we’re a good football team, not as good as we could be, or should be, perhaps, but we’re a good football team. I think that exists. Now it’s a matter of how good and how successful this good football team is and the schedule ahead makes it rather complex.”
Still, beating TCU could be a sign of special things to come. The Wildcats have never won a battle between top 10 teams, going 0-11. It’s an opportunity to change the record books.
“This is what you dream of as a kid,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said. “You dream of being in situations like this. Two top 10 teams on the road … you can’t beat that. It’s kind of similar to a lot of games in 2012. Every game is the biggest game. It has been that way and it will continue to be that way. We have just got to take care of business.”
The stakes will be high every step of the way.
If K-State wins its final four games, chances are good it will qualify for the College Football Playoff. The Wildcats took two steps toward that potential destination this week, leapfrogging Mississippi and Michigan State to rise to No. 7 in the latest playoff rankings. And it can take another step forward by beating the team that sits one spot ahead — TCU. But a victory over the Horned Frogs could quickly be forgotten without three more wins.
One loss could be enough to knock them out of playoff contention.
“They will have to win out to make the top four,” said Fox Sports college football analyst Charles Davis, who will call Saturday’s game. “It’s not an easy schedule for anyone, but, when I look at it, if there is a team that can handle that schedule it’s Kansas State. They are the ultimate metronome. Nothing changes. They play with consistency. They play with an authority. They are pretty well equipped to handle whatever goes their way.”
Veteran K-State players know what’s on the line. They were in a similar situation two years ago, when a 10-0 start catapulted them to No. 1 in the BCS rankings. A single loss, at Baylor, sent them tumbling out of the national championship chase.
They learned something from that experience: Focus on the now. Even if working so hard to do so sounds robotic.
“It is not going to be a walk in the park,” K-State receiver Tyler Lockett said. “But we have already been here. We know what it takes. We know how to feel. We know how we got here. The biggest thing is we don’t want to have one of those fall-backs like we did against Baylor. … We have a crazy road game schedule playing some elite teams. The biggest thing is, are we up for the challenge? I believe the team is up for the challenge.”