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No. 7 K-State no longer the underdog

Published on -9/25/2012, 10:51 AM

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Special to The Hays Daily News

In a span of fewer than four hours Saturday night in Norman, Okla., the Kansas State Uniersity Wildcats simultaneously turned the Big 12 race upside down, changed perceptions and lost the driving force behind their recent return to the national stage.

Following their 24-19 victory against league favorite Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium, the underdog image they've cultivated and worn as a badge of honor for over a year no longer fits. At the very least it's a hard sell.

In pushing their record to 4-0, the Wildcats climbed eight spots to No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 - the highest of the five conference teams remaining in the poll. Five league schools were ahead of them to start the season.

"Probably I'm going to have to get back on the coaches' poll so I can get us down in the rankings a little bit more," K-State coach Bill Snyder said Monday on the weekly Big 12 teleconference.

K-State was voted eighth by the coaches in the USA Today poll, one spot behind West Virginia, and is tied for the league lead at 1-0.

Snyder, who never tires of warning his team about the pitfalls that come with success, knows the next two weeks -- an open date Saturday and a home game against struggling Kansas on Oct. 6 -- will test the Wildcats' willingness to accept the role frontrunners.

"We really have to have quality leadership from within, and we've got to understand how to keep things in perspective and respond to the fact that the polls have us at a certain place," he said. "Every single individual on the face of the earth understands that whatever happens in September probably isn't totally relevant to where you are in November.

"To not forget how you got there is the significant thing, and hopefully we won't."

Senior quarterback Collin Klein, a team captain who also has seen leaner times for the Wildcats, agreed they had better proceed forward with caution.

"It's going to be a challenge that we're going to face and we'll see how we do with that challenge," he said. "I think we have a lot of guys, even myself included, that have been here long enough when things weren't this way and we know what it feels like and we don't want to go back."

Last year, even as they went 10-3 and earned a Cotton Bowl berth, the Wildcats were underdogs most of the time.

They overcame it by winning eight times by a touchdown or less.

"We know the difference and have been in the difference between 5-7 and barely missing closing out a game in the fourth quarter -- things like that," said Klein, who threw for 149 yards and rushed for 79 with a touchdown against OU. "Taking it for granted in practice and not knowing what it takes to get ready to go and things like that.

"I know myself and all of us will do whatever it takes not to let that happen."

The Wildcats don't have to go back very far for a reminder of what complacency can do. Coming off an impressive victory over Miami in the second game of the season, they stubbed their toes the following week before pulling away late against North Texas.

"I think everybody has to be invested in that philosophy," Snyder said of remaining humble, hungry and focused. "They've been there before, probably on both sides of the fence, and hopefully they can respond appropriately.

"I thought our team responded well to criticism from the previous performance against North Texas."

Perhaps beating Oklahoma was a step toward shedding the underdog mentality.

"It gives us confidence and momentum," said junior running back John Hubert, who rushed for 130 yards against the Sooners and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a tough 9-yard carry in the fourth quarter. "We just want to keep getting better.

"We are one of those teams that can be in the top five easily, but we like to be underdogs. It gives us confidence to go out and play hard."

Punter Doerr honored

K-State claimed the Big 12 special teams player of the week honor for the second straight time Monday in the person of punter Ryan Doerr.

Doerr, a senior from Katy, Texas, punted five times against Oklahoma and pinned the Sooners inside their own 20-yard line on each occasions. Two of his kicks put them inside the 10.

"You take a team like Oklahoma that's capable of moving the ball extremely well, whether you give them 50 yards or 90 yards to go, it makes a major difference in the ballgame," Snyder said. "He's very deserving of the honor considering the fact that it had a major impact on the outcome of the game."

Sunflower or Sunup Showdown?

The Big 12 announced Monday the annual Sunflower Showdown between Kansas and Kansas State on Oct. 6 in Manhattan will kick off at 11:05 a.m.

The game at sold-out Snyder Family Stadium will be televised by FX.

It marks the first time since 2009 that the game has been played in Manhattan.

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