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K-State's best football team? A Cotton Bowl win puts 2011 in the argument

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, at 1:53 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, at 2:44 p.m.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What happens in the Cotton Bowl?


Cotton Bowl

Kansas State vs. Arkansas

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Records: KSU 10-2, Ark 10-2

Radio: KLIO, 1070-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: KSAS, Ch. 4

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tysyn Hartman knows the drill. He isn't supposed to talk about the legacy this Kansas State football team will leave behind until the season is over. The Wildcats still need to make final preparations for Friday's Cotton Bowl, and that is where his focus should be.

For the most part, it is. The senior safety wants to win his final game in a K-State uniform and go out on top. But with more than a month of build-up time between the end of the regular season and now, his mind occasionally wanders. When it does, he likes to think about what he will be able to tell his family years from now if K-State beats Arkansas.

It's an exciting thought.

A bowl victory would make K-State 11-2. Only six teams in program history have won that many games. A win would give the Wildcats one of their most memorable bowl wins to go along with past victories in the Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl. It would also allow them to finish the season ranked in the top 10 of national polls and possibly the top five in the final BCS standings.

"We would be able to say we are the best team (Bill Snyder) has ever coached," Hartman said. "What an accomplishment that would be."

Indeed. K-State football doesn't have much of a history beyond Snyder. Before he took over as coach in 1989, briefly retired and came back for the 2009 season, K-State played in one bowl game. So if these Wildcats go out as the best team Snyder has coached, they will also go out as the best team K-State has had.

Such a title is subjective, of course. No matter what K-State does Friday, some will argue the team Michael Bishop led to an undefeated regular season in 1998 or the team Darren Sproles lifted to a 2003 Big 12 championship are the best teams to play in Manhattan. A case could be made for all the teams that won 11 games. But a case could be made for this group, as well.

"I hope people talk about us that way," Hartman said. "But we aren't there yet. We have to win one more first."

Snyder likes that attitude. He doesn't mind his players dreaming about what could be, as long as they put in the hard work it takes to reach those dreams. He thinks this group has done a better job of that than any other group he has been around.

No matter how many times he is asked to rank this team with the other squads he has coached, he refuses. He views every team he has been a part of in a positive light, and doesn't think it is fair to single one group out over the others. But not even he can deny the resiliency and toughness his current players have displayed.

They entered the season projected to miss a bowl game and finish eighth in the Big 12. They finished in the Cotton Bowl and contended for a conference championship. Nearly every time they found themselves in a close game, they won. Eight of their victories came by a touchdown or less.

That's not easy to do.

"They're certainly a young group that has exceeded whatever the expectations have been," Snyder said."... I am also proud of this football team and how far they have come. They've probably come as far as any football team we've had up to this point in time."

Before boarding a plane to north Texas for a week of bowl preparation, Snyder shared those same compliments with his players in a closed setting.

Running back John Hubert said the speech energized players for the next few practices.

"Coach Snyder talked to us about us being one of the best teams he has ever coached," Hubert said. "I think we are competing with one of the 1990 teams. He told us we were up there.... We have that potential. We want to win and reach it."

Doing so will be difficult. Arkansas is chasing an 11-win season Friday, too. It played in the Sugar Bowl last year, and is motivated to win its first major bowl game since 2000. It finished third in the SEC West, a division that produced the two teams — LSU and Alabama — in this season's BCS championship game.

The Razorbacks will take the field as a touchdown favorite. If the Cats can outplay Arkansas, they will once again prove many doubters wrong. They could also force their way into the record book.

"We want to win every game, but we really want to win this one," said offensive lineman Clyde Aufner. "We really want to get to No. 11. That might put us up there with the best teams in Kansas State history. That would be really special."

Check Kellis Robinett's K-State blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com.

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