No. 20 Kansas State focused on Mizzou, not ranking
Chris Harper doesn't believe much has changed for No. 20 Kansas State between last week and this week. The Wildcats may have moved back into the polls for the first time in years, but that's about it. Everything else is status quo.
A lot has changed between this year and last year.
The Wildcats' wide receiver said players a year ago were content with a winning record and a bowl game, something they accomplished - barely - by going 7-6 and losing the Pinstripe Bowl.
''This year,'' Harper said, ''guys want to win every game, and not just talk about winning, but really go out there and win every game.''
They're accomplished that so far.
Kansas State (4-0) needed a late-minute touchdown pass to beat Eastern Kentucky, struggled in the second half against Kent State, used a goal line stand to hold off Miami and scored 10 straight points in the closing minutes last week to beat then-No. 15 Baylor in their Big 12 opener.
None of the games was easy, none offered much wiggle room between victory and defeat, but the fact is that Kansas State came out on top each time. That's enough to impress Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team gets the next chance to knock off the surprising Wildcats when they meet Saturday in a nationally televised contest.
''We all know the great respect I have for Bill Snyder. They are a very well-coached football team who has had two great victories in Miami and Baylor,'' Pinkel said. ''They run an offense that pounds the ball, they run versions of the option and, certainly, they play-action pass. They are very impressive in ball control. That's what he does. What is most impressive is they are a defensive football team.
''They're just playing very well and have risen to the occasion when they needed to,'' Pinkel said. ''I think of the goal line stand against Miami - that was really incredible.''
The Tigers haven't always risen to the occasion this season and injuries have been a big part of that.
Senior running back De'Vion Moore, who sprained his ankle in a loss to Arizona State, and junior running back Kendial Lawrence, who broke a bone in his leg in the season opener against Miami (Ohio), could be back Saturday. Offensive tackle Chris Freeman also should be available, though linebacker Will Ebner remains out with an ankle sprain.
Missouri began the season ranked in the Top 25, a trendy pick to challenge conference big shots such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But the loss on the road to the Sun Devils, coupled with a competitive 38-28 defeat to the Sooners last week, have the Tigers (2-2) playing catch up.
''For the ones that think about it more and let it bother them, and I'm not sure if we have a lot of guys who are like that, they're the ones we need to make sure we keep positive and uplifted and not worried about being 2-2,'' Tigers quarterback James Franklin said.
Franklin has been a revelation during the sometimes rocky start.
The sophomore only attempted 14 passes all of last season, when the Tigers had Chase Daniel calling the shots. But he's completing more than 60 percent of his throws this season, for 985 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception. Franklin is also the Tigers' second-leading rusher, going over 100 yards with two scores on the ground against the Sooners' vaunted defense.
''Franklin is a very poised young guy,'' Snyder said. ''Numbers that you can't really fathom, and a tight end who maybe hasn't caught as many balls as he has in the past that has tremendous talent. And those wide receivers - they've got four guys that are 6-4 or taller at wide receiver. And what are we? Our tallest guy is maybe 3-foot-3 or something like that. They're very diverse.''
They've had the Wildcats' number the past few years, too.
Missouri has won the last five meetings, including 38-28 last season, one of the big reasons the unranked Tigers are favored on the road against a ranked team. But much of that success was against Ron Prince, who coached the Wildcats during Snyder's brief retirement.
The wily old coach is still 14-5 in his career against the Tigers, and 5-2 against Pinkel.
''It's kind of fun playing the underdog role,'' Kansas State safety Tysyn Hartman said. ''We've grown used to it. People always count us out, and we find a way to rally and pull it out. I don't see any different way to approach it this week than in the past.''
Even with a shiny new ranking in front of their name.