MANHATTAN — Before Kansas State football players took the practice field earlier this week, coach Bill Snyder gave them a pep talk in the form of a question.
“How many of you have won a bowl game?” Snyder asked while addressing the Wildcats in the locker room.
He was met with silence.
“Nobody raised their hands,” sophomore receiver Tyler Lockett said. “That’s great motivation for us, because none of us know what it feels like to end the season with a win.”
Indeed, it’s been a long time since K-State won its last bowl game, defeating Arizona State 34-27 in the 2002 Holiday Bowl. So long that some of its current players hadn’t started playing organized football at the time. The Wildcats have lost four bowl games since.
Snyder coached three of them. The seniors on this roster played in two, falling 36-34 to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl two years ago and losing to Arkansas 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl last season. Their motivation stems only from recent defeats, but that is more than enough to provide added incentive as they prepare for Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Nobody here, myself included, has won a bowl game here,” senior quarterback Collin Klein said. “That’s another huge thing. We talk about being tough and finishing off all the time, this is our chance to prove it. It’s huge.”
A bowl victory would also put the finishing touches on one of the best seasons in program history. The Wildcats have won 11 games six times, but they have never won 12 in a single season.
“We are ready to do whatever it takes to make K-State history,” sophomore center B.J. Finney said.
Snyder has reminded his team of all these possibilities lately, hoping to keep everyone motivated during a month-long break between games.
That’s always the hardest thing about preparing for a bowl game.
“Whether or not you can get whole-heartedly into the preparation when you know you’ve still got 15 practices left before the actual event itself (is difficult),” Snyder said. “During the course of the season you’re looking at … four practices, maybe five at best. There is a sense of urgency that exists at that time. Now it is a matter of creating that same sense of urgency. Not necessarily just in their preparation for Oregon, but addressing each and every practice and meeting as an opportunity to truly improve yourself.”
Snyder thinks K-State is doing a good job of that so far. He is running bowl practices the way he always does, setting aside time for developing young players while also focusing on Oregon. Other than a couple practices, he says he has been pleased.
Still, he pushes for more. He wants to win as much as anyone.
Despite his impressive overall record at K-State (170-84-1) he has a losing record in bowl games (6-7). He has lost the last three bowls games he has coached.
There are several reasons for K-State’s less than stellar play in the postseason. It was an underdog against Ohio State the last time it played in the Fiesta Bowl, and Arkansas was favored in the Cotton Bowl. The Wildcats were still in rebuilding mode in the Pinstripe Bowl. Before that, Snyder was 6-4 in bowl games.
K-State players hope they have what it takes to win the program’s first bowl in a decade. At the moment, they certainly have the motivation.
“It motivates us a lot,” safety Jarard Milo said, “especially for the seniors. For us to be 0-2 in bowl games with a challenge coming up like this, it gives us something to really prepare for.”