MANHATTAN — Midway through Kansas State’s blowout victory over Texas Tech last weekend, a scout for the Fiesta Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl posed a question to those around him in the press box.
How did K-State, a team that is one victory away from bowl eligibility with three games to go, start the season with a loss to North Dakota State?
“I don’t understand that one,” he said. “They are a great team.”
That surprise was understandable. The bowl games he represents get first and fourth pick of Big 12 teams, so he doesn’t normally spend much time evaluating teams that lose to Championship Subdivision opponents. But if the Wildcats continue to play the way they have during their current three-game winning streak – all lopsided victories – they may end up earning an invitation to one of the league’s top four postseason games.
They have plenty of work to do if they want to climb that high — the Holiday or Texas bowls are more likely destinations — but it is possible.
K-State (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) sits sixth in the Big 12 standings, and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is the fourth bowl in the Big 12 pecking order, followed by the Holiday, Texas and Pinstripe. If K-State wins its final three games against TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas it could catch both Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3) and Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2) in the conference standings.
That would give it head-to-head victories over both the Red Raiders and the Sooners, and a six-game winning streak. Add in K-State’s large traveling fan base, and it could hold all the tiebreakers.
That’s the best-possible scenario for the Wildcats. It would require them winning out, and getting outside help. But it would likely end with an invitation to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which is played on Dec. 28 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., against a Big Ten opponent.
More probable scenarios end with K-State heading to the Holiday Bowl, on Dec. 30 in San Diego against a Pac-12 foe, or the Texas Bowl, on Dec. 27 in Houston against a Big Ten team.
K-State linebacker Jonathan Truman, a former Kapaun Mount Carmel standout, is trying to focus on Saturday’s game against TCU instead of those possibilities.
“It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s hard not to look ahead,” Truman said. “Coach (Bill) Snyder is always trying to keep us on the ground. I understand if we come out on top in this game we will be bowl eligible. The better bowl game you go to, the better season you had. Our goal is to win games. Whatever bowl comes out of winning football games is the one we want to go to.”
The Holiday Bowl picks fifth, and appears to be the current favorite. If K-State wins at least two more games, that could easily be its destination. Texas Tech won’t be favored in its final two games (against Baylor and at Texas) and K-State just defeated the Red Raiders on the road. If they both finish 7-5, the Wildcats would have an edge.
“It all depends on how Kansas State does the next few games, but we see them in our wheelhouse,” said Holiday Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski. “We have nothing but great memories of Kansas State in the Holiday Bowl. They have great fans, a great coach and a great team. Everything is very positive in our end with Kansas State.”
The Wildcats have made three previous trips to the Holiday Bowl, beating Arizona State in 2002, Washington in 1999 and Colorado State in 1995.
Binkowski said the Holiday Bowl is paying close attention to K-State and Texas Tech. They appear to be the bowl’s top current targets. But it is also keeping an eye on Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Several factors will be considered before making a final decision, including the fact that Snyder is in the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame. A member has never coached in the game.
“That would be pretty special,” Binkowski said.
But Binkowski stressed that the Holiday Bowl considers record above everything else.
“The bottom line is we pick the best available team to provide the best available matchup,” Binkowski said. “There have been many years when we could have picked Team A and sold more tickets, but we went with Team B because they deserved it.”
The Texas Bowl becomes a possibility for K-State with seven victories and a likely landing spot with six wins. The Texas Bowl gets sixth pick from the Big 12.
If K-State fails to move up the standings, there are few other destinations. A drop to the Pinstripe Bowl is possible, but seems unlikely. West Virginia is unlikely to top K-State in the bowl order, though TCU could if it wins its remaining games.
Still, Texas Bowl executive director Jamey Rootes said he would love to bring the Wildcats back to Reliant Stadium. They are one of the bowl’s primary options, along with TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
The Wildcats last played in the Texas Bowl in 2006, losing to Rutgers.
“They have such an amazing fan base,” Rootes said. “The program that Coach Snyder has built and is now leading again, it’s admirable the way they go about their business. Certainly they are a very attractive team for any bowl game, not just ours.”
Of course, K-State needs to win one more game before any bowl game becomes a possibility. Making that first step will provide extra motivation against TCU.
“There is a lot riding on this game for both teams,” junior center B.J. Finney said. “This could make or break TCU’s bowl appearance and this could very well make or break ours. There is a lot riding on it. Both of our backs are against the wall.”