Kansas State’s path to a Big 12 title is entirely up to the Wildcats, albeit a difficult one. Working their way into the College Football Playoff will be even more of a chore and almost certainly require them to maintain their perfect conference record.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats begin November as the last team unbeaten in Big 12 play, something they’ll put on the line Saturday night at home against Oklahoma State as the national focus begins to shift to the FBS’ first playoff race.
It’s not yet of concern to the Wildcats (6-1, 4-0), whose only loss came to then-No. 5 Auburn on Sept. 18.
"It doesn’t matter where people have you at the beginning of the season, or during the season. It’s where they have you at the end of the season," linebacker Jonathan Truman said. "It matters where they’re forced to put you at the end of the season, based on your performance."
If impressing the selection committee is at all yet on Kansas State’s mind, coach Bill Snyder’s team went about it the old fashion way with last Saturday’s 23-0 home win over Texas.
The Wildcats held the Longhorns to 196 yards in their first shutout of a Big 12 opponent since beating Iowa State 45-0 on Nov. 8, 2003.
"It means a great, great deal," said Snyder, whose team has won four straight. "It just doesn’t happen in this day and age."
Offensively, the Wildcats went a second straight game without committing a turnover and their six is tied for the fifth-fewest in the FBS.
Individual numbers on that side of the ball remain quite modest with Jake Waters – yet to throw for 300 yards in a game – going 19 of 30 for 224 yards without a touchdown.
Wide receiver Tyler Lockett caught eight passes for 103 yards – his third 100-yard effort of the season – though no Kansas State running back has posted a 100-yard game. Waters has two.
Yet the wins keep coming and respect for Snyder remains, despite the game changing around the 75-year-old.
"You can go back to when Barry Switzer said that he was the coach of the century at one time," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "It’s a challenge for me, as a head coach, and for our staff against them.
"It’s interesting, the game hasn’t changed much for them. They have a plan on offense, they have a plan on special teams and they have a plan on defense. That’s what you get."
The Cowboys (5-3, 3-2) were once in a similar position with their only defeat coming against a top-five nonconference foe, but they’ve seen their season slip with losses at TCU on Oct. 18 and at home against West Virginia last Saturday by an average of 28.5 points. The 34-10 defeat to the Mountaineers was their fifth straight against the Top 25.
They’ve been torched for 1,124 yards in the losses and must now prepare for Waters’ multi-threat approach.
"He … has the run-pass option about every play and the one time your eyes are wrong, he is going to get you," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "It’s option football. It’s just a different way to run it. Sometimes he has the ball in his hand as the runner, as opposed to the option when he is pitching it backwards. He’s running it and has the option to pitch it forward and throw the ball."
Oklahoma State has stalled after putting up at least 31 points in each of its first five games for a 39.2 average and 449.8 yards of offense. The last three have resulted in 15.3 and 323.0.
Daxx Garman has gone 31 of 66 for 374 yards, a TD and four interceptions in the consecutive losses.
"There is a lot of room for Daxx to improve and he knows that and expects to play better," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said.
The Cowboys have won four of the last five meetings, though Kansas State has won the last seven at home when Oklahoma State enters unranked. The Wildcats are 23-1 at home against unranked opponents since the start of 2010.
Last season’s matchup resulted in a 33-29 home win for the Cowboys.