KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s funny: Kansas State wins a ton of football games, but it doesn’t win a lot of beauty pageants. The pastel-blazer crowd has never fully embraced the Wildcats, for whatever reason. Which is odd, considering that their fans will walk across hot coals to watch them in person and their coach ranks among the best to ever slap on a headset.
College football fans see the No. 3 team in the country. Those chamber-of-commerce bowl-selection types see the third-most popular college team in Kansas City. Old stigmas die hard.
“The fan base believes that there is no scenario where an objective evaluation is done. … Whatever tiebreakers there are in a close situation always go against K-State,” offers Stan Weber, the former Wildcat quarterback and the team’s radio analyst for more than two decades. “That’s what the fan base believes.”
With good reason.
Of the 14 previous years of the Bowl Championship Series, no teams have been eligible for at-large selection more than Kansas State and Florida, five times each. And no team has been passed over for at-large opportunities — ahem — more times than the Wildcats, who’ve received zero bids in five chances.
Heck, among schools that have been among the at-large pool at least four different times, they’re still the only one that hasn’t gotten its ticket punched by a bowl committee — the Gators notched three bids in five tries, Ohio State is 4-for-4 and Boise State is 1-for-4.
Even more galling: In four of those years, K-State was passed over by at least one team with a lower BCS ranking. In 2011-12, it happened twice over, with No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 13 Michigan getting at-large nods over the then-No. 8 Wildcats.
“Virginia Tech and Kansas State have a lot of things in common. … This was not Notre Dame picked over Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl,” Weber says. “It really surprised me that K-State didn’t get picked.”
College bowls are like boxing: The matchups prioritize profit first, television second, television third and merit fourth. Christiane Amanpour U can beat Honey Boo Boo Tech head to head 40-13, but if Honey Boo Boo Tech puts more butts in more seats, it’s a no-brainer. The blazers will gladly cast their lot with Honey Boo Boo Tech, smile for the press and worry about the spin later.
“It’s one of those things,” says Nick Warren, a tight end on three BCS-eligible-but-snubbed K-State teams from 1998-2000, and now a bank executive in Kansas City. “You’re disappointed, but there’s nothing, as players, you can do about it.”
Nothing, that is, except to win out. Win out and leave a ton of ugly carcasses in your wake for the CSI crew to dissect.
Last Saturday couldn’t have gone any better for the current Wildcats. K-State pushed its record to 7-0 after throttling West Virginia 55-14 in Morgantown, W.Va., in a potential season-changer on two fronts.
First, it was the kind of emasculation job that propelled K-State past Oregon in the latest BCS rankings, leaving the Wildcats behind only Alabama and Florida. Second, it put quarterback Collin Klein, who completed 19-of-21 passes and accounted for seven touchdowns against a stupefyingly bad Mountaineer defense, firmly in the Heisman Trophy catbird seat.
“So while a name like Notre Dame always rings large to bowl selection committees, I think another (key) is having a big-time, featured Heisman-Trophy-candidate player to give you an advantage over other teams,” Weber says. “Collin Klein’s publicity, starting definitely by midseason, and certainly by the first third of the season, will definitely resonate in the bowl committees’ minds.”
Now that the Wildcats are in the national championship chase, the next six weeks of K-State’s schedule are — for better or worse — about style points as well.
Trouble is, whether it be public relations or aesthetics or victory margins, coach Bill Snyder has never been much on style points. Obi-Wan does what Obi-Wan does. He won’t mug for the cameras. He won’t drop 63 on Baylor, unless the Bears decide they’re tired of trying to tackle K-State running back John Hubert.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s Nick Saban will have no problem giving the woodshed treatment to say, Western Carolina, to try and curry favor from the voters. Florida won’t play a game outside its home state until December. Oregon seems to rack up 50 every week. Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame.
“I’m hoping a guy like Collin Klein might get ‘em over the hump … (along with) Bill Snyder’s story,” Weber says. “But it’s kind of sickening that you have to be nervous about that scenario.”
The upcoming bouts on K-State’s fight card aren’t exactly a cakewalk. The highest-ranked BCS teams on the rest of the Wildcats’ slate — Texas Tech (No. 14) and Texas (No. 23) — have to come to Manhattan, Kan., which helps. Even visits to TCU (Nov. 10) and Baylor (Nov. 17) are fraught with potential land mines.
What happens if this team finds itself down 17-0 in a hostile environment? What if the injury bug bites in just the wrong spot, at exactly the wrong time?
“We never worried about it, week to week,” says Grant Reves, a backup tackle with the 2000 Wildcats. “The old man always said … coach Snyder always said: ‘Play this week and take care of this week.'”