MANHATTAN — In the grand scheme of things, Kansas State doesn’t have a ton to play for in its final game of the regular season.
No matter what happens during an 11 a.m. matchup against Kansas on Saturday, the Wildcats will end the year in a middle-tier bowl game. If they win, they increase their odds of playing in the Holiday Bowl. If they lose, the Texas Bowl is their likely destination. If they win, they secure seven victories and a winning record. If they lose, they get another shot at a winning record in the bowl game.
Those scenarios are so similar that K-State coach Bill Snyder responded with indifference when he was asked about them. To him, the difference between 7-5 and 6-6 is negligible.
“One says you were better than the other one,” Snyder said. “But I don’t like either one of them, to be honest.”
Don’t tell that to K-State players. Though they all wish they were headed to double-digit wins and another major bowl, they view the Sunflower Showdown as a pivotal game for reasons that extend beyond the obvious motivations that come with an in-state rivalry.
They want to win this game and finish 7-5. After a disappointing 2-4 start, that would be the biggest in-season turnaround in K-State history.
They want no part of 6-6.
“It’s a huge difference,” junior receiver Curry Sexton said. “Being .500, you are still bowl eligible if you win six games. But 6-6 isn’t that big of an accomplishment. If you go 7-5 and you go to a bowl game that gives you a chance to win eight games. To go from 2-4 to end up 7-5 would be a pretty solid way to end up the season. You can look back and say things didn’t go exactly the way we wanted them to this season, but 7-5 just sounds so much better than 6-6.”
When K-State lost four of its first six games, simply reaching a bowl seemed like a great accomplishment. But when the Wildcats won their sixth game two weeks ago against TCU, their goals shifted.
The team wanted more. It still does.
“Our season has been up and down, so we just really have been grinding, trying to stay focused and staying positive,” senior cornerback Kip Daily said. “It has not been easy going up and down, but we were able to get a streak going and it gave us confidence, energy and we are ready to work.
“It would be a great feeling knowing that we overcame some adversity early in the season to get through it. We all came together. It was not the easiest, but we just continued to push through and stuck together. It would mean a lot.”
On that sentiment, Snyder agrees.
This hasn’t been the easiest of seasons. Rebounding from a slow start for a memorable finish would be admirable.
“They demonstrated (that they are) a team of character, a team that had some persistence to it and was a team that wasn’t going to give in,” Snyder said. “All of those things come into play. If they finish 5-1, I think that is something they can be proud of.”