K-State has chance to clinch bowl eligibility, play spoiler at Oklahoma State

Kansas State redshirt freshman quarterback Skylar Thompson is likely to make his second career start on Saturday at Oklahoma State.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy examines Kansas State’s 5-5 record and throws up a warning flag for his players and fans.

“I go back to the parity in this league,” Gundy said. “Look at Kansas State. They lost at the end of the game to (Oklahoma). They lost at the end of the game to Texas. They barely lost to Vanderbilt on the road. They lost at the end of the game to West Virginia.

“Don’t let the record fool you. I think we all know in this league you can take the majority of the teams and put them on a neutral site, and it’s going to be a toss-up. I don’t see any difference in this game.”

The Wildcats, once considered a contender for the Big 12 title, have lost four games by a total of 25 points — or a 6.25 average — and that includes a double-overtime loss at Texas. At 3-4 in Big 12 play, Kansas State sits in seventh place in the conference.

Championship hopes dissipated, the Wildcats now find themselves scrambling just to become bowl eligible, needing a win among their final two games to secure a postseason bid.

And it won’t be easy.

The first opportunity comes Saturday, where Kansas State visits Boone Pickens Stadium as more than a two-touchdown underdog. Then the Wildcats close with a home game against Iowa State, one of the Big 12’s surprise teams.

“We probably spent too much of this season looking forward, as opposed to looking at present day,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “Bowls aren’t going to be there if you don’t do the things that you have to do on a daily basis in order to play well on Saturday. That hopefully would be our focus today and here on out.”

Gundy’s team is no stranger to tight finishes; the No. 13-ranked Cowboys, however, have won their share.

At 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12, No. 13 Oklahoma State owns an overtime win at Texas and is coming off a wild win at Iowa State that featured a rally from eight points down in the fourth quarter. In both games, the Cowboys needed an interception in the end zone at game’s end to survive.

Oklahoma State has been bowl eligible since Week 7. The Cowboys now look to finish strong and enhance their postseason destinations, aiming for a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl while also clinging to hopes of finding their way to the conference championship game. They need to win out and get a TCU loss, either at Texas Tech or home against Baylor, which may be a long shot.

But it’s a shot, nonetheless.

“We have to weigh how everything structures … playoff and the Big 12,” Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph said. “Every week is huge, whether we are playing Tulsa or Texas Tech, we play them all the same.

“We come up with a plan and try to execute it and control it.”

Kansas State’s shots have come at quarterback, in the form of injuries. Jesse Ertz, who opened the season as the starter, hasn’t played the past five games due to a knee injury. His replacement, Alex Delton, was knocked out of consecutive games with concussion-like symptoms, and like Ertz is questionable to play again.

That left redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson, who has played in five games, starting last week’s close loss to West Virginia.

Still, Wildcats offensive tackle Dalton Risner said, they fight on.

“We bring it because we are 5-5 and we know we could be 8-1 or 9-0,” Risner said. “We bring it because we are pissed off. We bring it because we are mad. We bring it because we see what everyone expects from us and we aren’t putting it out there. We bring it because the fans are upset.

“We bring it because Coach Snyder is upset. We bring it because we have faith in Kansas State football and what we can be as a team. We aren’t going to give up.”

The Wildcats haven’t won in Stillwater since 1999, dropping five straight at Boone Pickens Stadium. And yet, that record is deceiving, too.

Those five losses have come by a total of 19 points.

“They’re a very disciplined team,” Oklahoma State safety Jerel Morrow said. “Their record doesn’t reflect how they work. They’re a hard-working team. They always are; that’s how it’s always been.

“We can’t take them lightly. We’ve got to do our job each and every play or they’ll make us pay for it.”