Kansas State football an enticing choice for Big 12's top bowl games

11/15/2011 12:00 AM

11/15/2011 9:30 PM

MANHATTAN — Bowl representatives turn into scouts this time of year. They watch games, analyze fan bases, learn everything they can about a football program.

Sometimes that process is tedious, other times painless.

For those taking a hard look at Kansas State, there are no complaints. Representatives from the Fiesta, Cotton and Alamo bowls say the Wildcats are doing all the hard work themselves.

"I am sitting here looking at a slick, four-color brochure made specifically for the AT&T Cotton Bowl," said Cotton Bowl President Rick Baker. "It says, 'K-State fans are ready to pack Arlington with purple,' and has statistics on how well K-State travels and how the team is doing.

"It's as slick a piece as you're ever going to want to see. I've never received one during the season like this. It just goes to show how forward-thinking and aggressive they are right now."

K-State administrators sent similar brochures to every Big 12-affiliated bowl game, and added a bowl page to the athletic department's website minutes after the football team became eligible with six victories.

Their strategy appears to be paying off. At 8-2 and 5-2 in conference play, the Wildcats would be on their way to playing in a good bowl game regardless of marketing approach. But the combination is impossible to ignore.

With wins in their final two games against Texas and Iowa State, the Wildcats will have an outside chance at a BCS invite and be strong contenders for the Cotton and Alamo bowls. All three are interested.

"If they win out, what an attractive team they would be at 10-2," said Alamo Bowl spokesman Rick Hill. "They could be in the BCS. I think they'll be in that discussion and receive high consideration. You look at Kansas State's record, and they have two losses, both to two of the best teams in the country. It's a great story."

Added Fiesta Bowl spokesperson Kristen Pflipsen: "We are still considering K-State for the Fiesta Bowl. A lot of things would have to happen for that to become reality. But that is not out of the question. We've always had a really positive experience with the Wildcats."

Where K-State ends up playing this postseason depends both on how it finishes the year and how Oklahoma and Oklahoma State perform down the stretch.

The Sooners and Cowboys appear destined for a Big 12 title bout in the regular-season finale. If Oklahoma State wins out, it will play in the BCS championship game. With a loss, it will still likely earn a BCS bowl berth.

Oklahoma's bowl destiny is less certain. If the Sooners win out, they will win the Big 12 and likely head to the Fiesta Bowl. They could also play in a BCS bowl with another loss or slip to the Cotton Bowl.

If both K-State and Oklahoma finish 10-2, the Wildcats could move ahead of the Sooners in the bowl pecking order and land either invite. But Oklahoma beat K-State 58-17 in Manhattan three weeks ago. Though that game won't serve as a tiebreaker with bowl representatives, it could be considered.

By rule, only two teams from the Big 12 can play in BCS bowls. The Cotton Bowl has first choice of Big 12 teams outside the BCS, and the Alamo Bowl picks next.

K-State played in the Pinstripe Bowl last year, and would view all three bowls as a step forward.

Not that the Wildcats are thinking that far ahead.

"I'm not trying to focus on the bowl game stuff right now," freshman center B.J. Finney said. "What's on my mind right now is that we have two games left. They're conference games against tough opponents, and not to be overlooked."

Cotton and Alamo bowl representatives will attend Saturday's game at Texas.

The Alamo and Cotton bowls like the idea of inviting them back after long layoffs. Baker thinks it would be neat for K-State fans to see the new Cowboys Stadium.

"When we last had them in 2001, they won a great game against Tennessee," Baker said. "But we had some snow that year. It would be a lot of fun to bring the K-State fans back who saw the less than stellar weather in '01 to enjoy the indoors and this special place."

K-State fans could also enjoy the climate-controlled Alamodome in San Antonio. The Wildcats last played there in 1998. Hill, who said the Alamo Bowl is also considering Texas and Baylor, thinks they would enjoy a return trip.

He's just not sure they'll be available.

"As soon as they got to six wins, boy, did they turn it on," Hill said. "They always have a great reputation for traveling, and are a great team this year. You couple that with an athletic department that was ahead of the curve.... They should be very attractive to bowl committees."

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