MANHATTAN — The odds are finally in Kansas State's favor.
For the first time in nearly five weeks, the Wildcats are preparing for a game in which oddsmakers have made them the favorite. That's a change from a four-week stretch of winning close games as an underdog.
Yet practice for Saturday's game against Kansas began the same way it always does for the No. 12 Wildcats. Well, one detail was different. Instead of generic static being pumped into Snyder Family Stadium to simulate crowd noise, the Jayhawks' fight song blared.
Even though Kansas is struggling at the moment, coach Bill Snyder wants the Jayhawks taken as seriously as every other opponent.
"It's a rivalry game," tight end Travis Tannahill said. "We're never going to look past KU."
While it's easy for players like Tannahill, a junior from Overland Park, to understand the importance of the rivalry and treat Kansas like Miami or Texas Tech, new players are starting to understand as well.
The source of motivation is different than in recent weeks, but motivation remains. The fight for respect and improving a national ranking has turned to keeping a winning streak going over KU.
"It's pretty much the same story," center B.J. Finney said. "We are favorites going into this game, but that doesn't really matter. Anybody can lose on any given day."
Coaches reminded players of that cliche Monday by running down a list of memorable upsets that have occurred in recent years. On Tuesday, coaches hammered it home by posting copies of an article that predicted the Wildcats as one of a handful of teams that will quickly fall out of the top 25.
"All games are significant, as most people say," Snyder said. "Winning is hard under any circumstance."
Even though the Jayhawks have lost four straight games by an average of 31.3 points, and the Wildcats won 59-7 in Lawrence a year ago, Snyder has done his best to keep K-State's focus where it belongs.
Players get the feeling this game means more to Snyder than others.
"He has more intensity around this week," defensive end Jordan Voelker said of Snyder. "He's just making sure we're not overlooking them all the time. He's just always reiterating the fact that we have to prepare each week and that we have to prepare for this game, that they are going to show up on Saturday."
Just in case some players don't believe that, there is one other thing they can shoot for: a stress-free victory. In their past four games, the Wildcats have needed big plays in the fourth quarter to win. And five of their six games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Tannahill, at the age of 21, says the close finishes are already giving him gray hairs. It would be nice to spend the fourth quarter on the sideline, watching with a care-free attitude.
That, combined with the thrill of playing a rivalry game, should be more than enough to spark K-State's enthusiasm this week.
"There is no letdown for this week," Tannahill said. "Complacency can set in, but coach isn't going to let that happen. I don't think the leaders on this team are ever going to let that happen."
Not much impact — Snyder was asked if he thought winning the Sunflower Showdown gives K-State a recruiting advantage with in-state players.
"If I had to guess at it, I would say I doubt that it has an impact," Snyder said. "For the most part, young guys grow up kind of having an allegiance. They've got a family that's got a purple flag out or a red-and-blue flag out. One of the two."
Uncertainty remains — Wide receivers Brodrick Smith and Sheldon Smith, who missed Saturday's game at Texas Tech for undisclosed reasons, may not be available against Kansas. Snyder once again classified the status of both players as "uncertain."