West Virginia-Kansas St. Preview
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Earlier this week, it became apparent that as many as five teams with 5-7 records could earn an invitation to a bowl game, and attention naturally shifted to Kansas State.
The Wildcats (5-6, 2-6 Big 12) are preparing for their regular-season finale against West Virginia on Saturday, and would need to win their third straight game to ensure a bowl destination.
But even if they lose, the NCAA Division I council has approved a recommendation that makes 5-7 teams eligible for bowls provided there are not enough six-win teams to fill them. They'll be allotted according to Academic Progress Rate, and Kansas State is positioned just behind Nebraska.
''None of us are even thinking about that,'' Kansas State center Dalton Risner said. ''We're going to beat West Virginia this weekend. We're going to be 6-6 and we're going to earn ourselves a bowl game. If you're thinking about 5-7, then you're on the wrong page.''
West Virginia (7-4, 4-4) is less concerned with its bowl aspirations. Those were set in late November with a 49-0 win over Kansas. But the Mountaineers are still playing for their first eight-win season since 2011, a sign that things are headed back in the right direction.
''Doing things that you haven't done in the last couple of years - that is a sign of improvement,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. ''It means improvement. It's the name of the game.''
The Mountaineers may be the hottest team in the Big 12 outside of No. 3 Oklahoma, winning four straight after a 40-10 drubbing by then-No. 5 TCU. Yet they are still looking for their first victory over Bill Snyder and Kansas State since joining the conference in 2012.
''They are very well-coached,'' Holgorsen said. ''They are a very disciplined football team. The guys play hard. The guys care. It is a family atmosphere. They will be playing as well as they have all year this Saturday. It's their senior day and the last regular-season game.''
As the Mountaineers prepare to meet the Wildcats here are some things to watch:
West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard started on the bench last season when Kansas State visited Morgantown. But after coming on at halftime, he helped the Mountaineers fight back in a close loss, finishing 15 of 23 for 198 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
''I specifically remember this,'' Holgorsen aid. ''I looked at him and said, `Are you ready to go?' He said `Let's do this.' I told him to get in there and run the offense, and then he took us down there and scored.''
SPECIAL TEAMS, AGAIN
Kansas State's Morgan Burns was the Big 12 Special Teams player of the week after forcing a fumble on a Kansas punt attempt and then recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown, all in the same quarter last weekend. It was his third consecutive award following back-to-back games with kickoff returns for touchdowns, including a 100-yard scamper against Iowa State.
West Virginia has kept opponents guessing this season, averaging 223 yards passing and 242 yards rushing. Running back Wendell Smallwood has seven games of 100 yards or more, and backup Rushel Shell has more yards this season (639) than any Kansas State rusher. Together, the two running backs and Howard have accounted for 36 of West Virginia's 64 offensive touchdowns.
CUSP OF HISTORY
Kansas State is trying to become the sixth Power Five team since 2006 to advance to a bowl after staving off elimination - 2-6 or 3-6 records - in at least three-straight games. ''Where do you guys get this stuff?'' Snyder said, when asked about it. ''You have to stay up awful late at night to dig stuff like that up.''
''That's probably 158th on my list of things to worry about.'' - Snyder said, when asked if he was in favor of changes so that losing teams couldn't be a part of bowls.