(AP) – All that Kansas State can do now is try to achieve perfection. That’s all the third-ranked Wildcats control.
Kansas State has already beaten two ranked teams on the road in Oklahoma and West Virginia, and it blitzed then-No. 15 Texas Tech 55-24 last Saturday to remain undefeated.
The problem is that top-ranked Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and fourth-ranked Notre Dame are also perfect, and all of them have strong cases to play for the BCS championship – and that means a lot of scoreboard watching as the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) play out the easiest four-game stretch of their season, starting Saturday night with a visit from Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1).
“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,” wide receiver Chris Harper said. “It’s really hard not to look ahead, but the position that we’re in, you can’t do it.”
It’s been more than a decade since the Wildcats were in this position.
The last time they started a season with eight straight wins was 1999, when they eventually stumbled against Nebraska. The previous year, they were seven minutes from playing for a national title when Texas A&M staged a dramatic rally in the Big 12 title game and won in double overtime to deal the Wildcats their first loss.
The Wildcats won’t have to worry about a Big 12 title game this season, now that the league only has 10 members. And that could turn out to hurt them, denying them one last chance to rack up a marquee victory – perhaps in a rematch with the Sooners – in the final week of the season.
Instead, Kansas State’s final four games are against Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas.
That means the first undefeated season in school history might not be enough to book a trip to Miami if the Ducks and Fighting Irish are more impressive in finishing out their seasons against higher-rated teams such as Southern California, Stanford and Oregon State.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is just worried about beating the Cowboys on Saturday.
“It is so easy to lose sight of things,” he said. “I am proud of our young guys up to this point in time because you do not know about tomorrow. Up to this point in time they have handled it well. They go back to work. It is not easy, it just gets harder. I keep saying there is a border right there, and what we do from this point in time on will define us collectively.”
Senior Collin Klein, who bolstered his Heisman Trophy resume with another four-touchdown performance against Texas Tech, is taking the same detached view as his sagely coach.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys here, too, who’ve been around, and we understand where we’ve been and where we’ve come from not so very recently, not too far back down the road,” Klein said. “That’s very vivid in our minds.”
The Wildcats went 6-6 in Klein’s freshman season and 7-6 two years ago, but after winning 10 games and reaching the Cotton Bowl last season, they’re playing their way into the BCS picture.
“We have to stay humble and hungry, because we haven’t won anything,” Harper said. “All these years, we’ve won a lot of games here, but we still haven’t won a national championship and things like that to show for it. But without winning these next four games, we can’t get there.”
Oklahoma State should present a challenge to Klein, as the Cowboys’ defense seems to be rounding into form.
In starting the season 2-2, the Cowboys surrendered 59 points to Arizona and 41 to Texas, losing both games. Since then, for the first time in its Big 12 history, Oklahoma State has held three straight league opponents under 20 points in wins over Kansas (20-14), Iowa State (31-10) and TCU (36-14).
Klein and Kansas State pose a unique challenge to any defense. The multifaceted quarterback is tied for the lead in Big 12 play in touchdowns scored with 12 and ranks fifth in the league in rushing, but he also leads the Big 12 in pass efficiency and hasn’t thrown an interception in 106 attempts.
“It looks like to me he’s worked really hard in the offseason on his accuracy on his downfield throws,” Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. “They give him the time and his accuracy is considerably better, in my opinion, than it would have been a year ago.”
Klein and the Wildcats ran wild at Oklahoma State last year, nearly pulling off the upset before the then-No. 3 Cowboys held on for a 52-45 win. Both teams scored two touchdowns in the final 5:16, and the Wildcats were on the verge of scoring again as time expired.
“You’ve just got to swarm to the ball, when (Klein) decides to pull the ball down and run, and then make sure everybody is in the right gap and sticking to their assignments,” strong safety Shamiel Gary said. “In the pass game, all we have to do as a secondary is lock down on the receivers and then swarm to the ball.”