Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Underdogs... again

The Kansas State Wildcats enter Saturday’s game against Oklahoma ranked ahead of the Sooners in the Associated Press poll. They sit higher in the Bowl Championship Series standings. They’re undefeated, with their seven victories including one over Texas Tech, the sole team to defeat OU this season. To top things off, the contest will take place on K-State’s home field. With so many factors seemingly in favor of those adorned in purple, it’s only natural that the Sooners are favored to win the game by 13.5 points. 

… Wait, what?

It’s been that sort of season for Kansas State. The Wildcats entered the season expected by most to have as much impact on the Big 12 championship race as Bob Krause’s mustache comb. The season opener did little to build expectations, as the Wildcats squeaked past an Eastern Kentucky squad so obscure that most fans were not even aware that it was not the Kentucky school with the Grimace-like Hilltopper mascot. K-State followed with a 37-0 drubbing of Kent State (“NOT KENT,” as the team’s media packet not-so-subtly reminded), but game three brought a legitimate challenge. The Miami Hurricanes entered fresh off an upset of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The game was the sort that coach Bill Snyder had specifically tried to avoid scheduling in his first run as the face of Kansas State football – an early season road matchup against a historically strong program. The Wildcats entered as underdogs, but left the city of Will Smith’s affection with a win, thanks in large part to a defense that exhibited a stout ability to come up with big stops.

One week later, the Wildcats played host to the Baylor Bears, a squad with a high-powered offense led by a multidimensional quarterback whose success had brought adoration from sports journalists around the country and from NFL scouts. The task? Large. The odds? Not good, according to the folks in Las Vegas. The result? The slimmest of victories for Kansas State, as the Wildcats won 36-35.

As for games 5 and 6? Different opponents, but the games brought more of the same. Few thought the Wildcats would top a Missouri team pining for southern living or a Texas Tech squad that played a Texas Tech squad (hello, insane offensive numbers). Alas, Kansas State beat point spreads, beat opponents, and basically beat down the doors of the national polls.

Week after week (aside from the matchup with the University of Kansas’ intramural squad… Wait, that was their D-1 team?), the Wildcats have been underdogs, and week after week, Snyder’s youngsters have prevailed. This is a team that was picked to finish 8th out of 10 conference teams in the preseason. Today, they are the eighth-best team in the country according to the (for better or worse) goulash of football evaluation that is the BCS. Despite pollsters taking notice of the success emanating out of Manhattan, the sports-betting overlords have refused to consider K-State anything but an overachiever. Chances are that they see a team with no overwhelming strengths, an underwhelming passing game, and a run-game that is far too reliant on its quarterback. They have an argument, but opposing head coaches whose scouting yielded the same results have had no luck in seizing a victory against the Wildcats. For whatever reason (cough*BILLSNYDER*cough), each week K-State has been able accomplish just enough (or - in the case of the game against the Kansas LastLaughHawks - much more than enough) to walk off the field as winners.
The season has already had a “Rudy” feel (sans inspirational soundtrack), with all in purple playing the role of the hobbit-like walk-on. With upcoming contests against Oklahoma and BCS No. 3 Oklahoma State, the season could potentially attempt to infringe on the “Rocky” series’ copyright. The Sooners are your arrogant Apollo Creed-like crew who, though strong, are not invincible. The Cowboys can be Clubber Lang – knocking opponents out with a high-powered offense and led by a coach whose rant a few years back sounded a lot like something Clubber might have spouted. After the Oklahoma double-dip, the Wildcats will welcome the SEC-bound Texas A&M Aggies… I should probably refrain from making any comparisons between them and Cold War Russia’s Ivan Drago.
With seven wins, the Wildcats have already eclipsed the total that most “experts” had them pegged for in the preseason. No matter what happens from here, whether it involves losing every game left or announcing the football team has disbanded to form an a capella singing group (my guess is they’d be light on sopranos), K-State is the conference’s surprise team of 2011. Can the Wildcats keep the wins coming? Could this team potentially win the Big 12 and/or find its way to a BCS Bowl Game?
The odds certainly aren’t in their favor.
… which may be precisely what Snyder and the Wildcats want to hear.

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