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K-State remains on periphery of championship chatter

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at 4:39 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, at 7:32 p.m.

— They’re talking about it at Alabama. They’re talking about it at Oregon, at Notre Dame and at Florida.

National football championship aspirations are sweeping through those fan bases like the flu.

But another undefeated program seems to be immune to the hype — Kansas State.

Even though the Wildcats are ranked fourth in the BCS standings, are undefeated and own a road victory over No. 10 Oklahoma, few are mentioning them as national championship contenders.

“It seems like people don’t have confidence in us,” senior kicker Anthony Cantele said. “When we beat KU pretty bad we still got jumped by teams in the polls. I just feel like that was them showing they don’t have confidence in us.”

That’s nothing new for K-State. It was an underdog in most games last year despite going 10-3 and making the Cotton Bowl, and it was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 heading into this season. But the Wildcats have been on a steady rise since debuting at No. 22 in the national polls.

Thanks to wins over Miami, Oklahoma and Iowa State, they are the lone undefeated team in the Big 12 and can take a commanding lead in the league race — and possibly more — with a win at No. 17 West Virginia on Saturday.

The Mountaineers are the highest-ranked team remaining on K-State’s schedule, and a victory over them would go a long way to boosting the Wildcats’ national perception. At 7-0 with two marquee road wins, maybe K-State will be viewed as a serious contender at the national level.

“This is a huge game for us in terms of showing what we are really capable of,” Cantele said. “It might hurt a little bit that they got beat last week, but beating West Virginia would be big. They are still an amazing team.”

Alabama, the unanimous No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll, will stay on top of the rankings until it loses. Florida is second in the BCS standings, and can work its way into the national championship game if it wins the SEC. But the Crimson Tide and Gators can’t both go undefeated. The door appears open for another team.

Oregon is in the best shape to move up. It is ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and has resume-boosting games against USC, Stanford and Oregon State remaining. But staying undefeated won’t be easy. Notre Dame is also in the mix with games remaining at Oklahoma and USC.

If the Wildcats win out, their resume will look awfully good, too.

“I think we can be in there,” Cantele said. “Oregon and Alabama will be in front of us until they lose and maybe even if they do. Who knows? We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing and keep playing. If we do that we’ll be fine.”

Of course, perception is generally ignored at Kansas State. Football coach Bill Snyder is always asking his players to “keep everything between the white lines” and telling them to focus on the nothing beyond the next game.

When asked for his thoughts on the first BCS standings, which were released Sunday, Snyder chuckled.

“I don’t know that I ever saw them,” Snyder said.

His players did, though. Senior receiver Chris Harper watched them announced on TV and has studied them online. It’s human nature for him to care.

After some debate, he likes where K-State ended up. It is high enough in the polls to rise up in the standings if Alabama, Florida or Oregon stumble but low enough that it can still go relatively unnoticed.

“When people talk about the best teams in the nation, they don’t mention us,” Harper said. “It affects you in some aspects, but it works to your advantage because you don’t know how guys who haven’t had that kind of success can handle it.You’ve got girls you’ve never talked to throwing themselves at you. It sounds easy, but some guys don’t know how to handle it. I would rather get a lot of ‘pub’ at the end of the season than during the season.”

So K-State players are trying to block out the future as much as possible, no matter what outsiders think of them.

It might be a while before the words “national championship” get mentioned in the locker room.

“That’s a curse, right?” senior punter Ryan Doerr said. “No, we’re not thinking that far ahead. All we’re looking at right now is West Virginia.”

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

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