Kansas State’s next three games perfectly illustrates the unforgiving nature of the Big 12 football schedule.
The Wildcats open conference play on Saturday with a trip to No. 20 Oklahoma State, a team they last defeated on the road in 1999. In two weeks, they host No. 4 TCU, a team that has won 12 straight dating back to last October. After that, they take on No. 15 Oklahoma, a team that has surpassed preseason expectations.
That’s three straight undefeated opponents, all ranked in the top 20. And things don’t get much easier from there. K-State follows that three-game stretch with a trip to Texas, a home game against No. 5 Baylor and a road game at Texas Tech, which is receiving votes in the national polls. K-State could be an underdog in its next six games.
“The competition is going to be unreal,” K-State center Dalton Risner said. “Talking to the guys, they are saying this is a whole other step up. We are going into the Big 12, we are going to a whole other level.”
K-State enters the Big 12 season with cautious optimism. They won all three of their nonconference games for the first time in three years, manhandling South Dakota and Texas-San Antonio before holding off Louisiana Tech in three overtimes. Fresh off a bye week, players are confident they can start 4-0 for the first time since 2012.
But it won’t be easy.
“We have got all the teams that the media is favoring up next,” K-State quarterback Joe Hubener said. “But, really, the Big 12 is a tough conference. I think anyone can beat anyone. We have to prepare for the second half (of the league schedule) the same way we have to prepare for this first half. Hopefully, we can set the tone for our Big 12 season this weekend.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder said players “made headway” during their off week. Everyone received more rest than usual and a handful of injured players got healthy — though strong safety Dante Barnett remains unlikely to play Saturday.
Their biggest challenge now, Snyder said, may be mental.
“We are not looking to how many road games we have and what the next four or five ballgames look like,” Snyder said. “If we are thinking about that, we are going to have some real trouble this weekend and some real problems this afternoon.”
He wants his players focused on the next game, and nothing else. Do that, and he thinks everything else will fall in line.
“Everything is really centered around our preparation for Oklahoma State,” Snyder said. “Once you get between the white lines, if you can just pay attention to what you need to pay attention to, you do become oblivious to certain things. It’s like those of you who are married. Sometimes you hear your wife, sometimes you don’t hear your wife, or husband whatever the case may be. It just depends. Sometimes you keep it between the white lines and you don’t hear her, right? So we all have the capacity to do that. We can focus on that which we choose to focus on.”
Besides, it’s not like K-State’s conference schedule is different from the other nine teams in the league. Everyone plays the same round-robin. The only thing that changes is the order.
TCU coach Gary Patterson called his team’s Big 12 start of Texas Tech, Texas, K-State and Iowa State the toughest stretch on the Horned Frogs’ schedule. Texas Tech plays TCU and Baylor in consecutive weeks. West Virginia opens with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU.
K-State expected this difficult string of games.
“In the Big 12, no matter which way you start, it is going to be pretty daunting,” linebacker Will Davis said. “There are a lot of great teams top to bottom. It is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best. It tests you mentally. You have got to bring your best everyday, all the time, no matter what.
“It is what we signed up for, to play in these big games. It is going to be fun and it is going to be a challenge, but we are excited for it.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett