Sports

Pinstripe Bowl is something for Kansas State football to build on

NEW YORK — As more and more bowl games are added to college football's postseason, more and more critics say enough is enough.

But not Bill Snyder.

This season, 70 teams are making trips to a bowl game, and he's thrilled Kansas State is one of them. Today's Pinstripe Bowl game against Syracuse will be his first bowl since coming out of retirement two years ago.

During his first run in Manhattan, the 71-year old coach guided the Wildcats to 11 consecutive bowls and turned K-State into a recognizable football brand. In recent weeks, he has been asked to compare this trip to Yankee Stadium with his first bowl in 1993. He says there are few similarities.

But Snyder certainly remembers what happened to the Wildcats after they crushed Wyoming 52-17 in the Copper Bowl 17 years ago.

"If you're a team like we were when we started out," Snyder said, "and you can go . . . to a bowl game, where that can stair-step you to and the value of what that means to your programæ.æ.æ. tells me that if they had 100 bowls it would probably be of value to an awful lot of football teams."

K-State players must have listened to their coach preach that lesson over and over during the last few weeks of practice.

After almost every meeting since the conclusion of the regular season, K-State players say someone has shared what it would mean to them to be part of the first K-State team to a win bowl game since 2002.

Some younger players say they want to set a good precedent for the remainder of their careers. Others say they want to restore some of the old K-State glory. For some of the veterans, it would be redemption for their last bowl appearance.

Back then, the Wildcats went to the 2006 Texas Bowl and got caught up in the atmosphere. Under former coach Ron Prince, K-State players received their bowl swag, toured Houston and focused more on the bowl experience than the actual game.

"We were just happy to be there," explained senior guard Zach Kendall.

Kendall was a redshirt freshman at the time, and claims to have nightmares about what occurred inside Reliant Stadium. Rutgers dominated almost from start to finish and won 37-10.

"We just got spanked in that bowl game," Kendall said. "What an awful experience. We're not thinking that way this time. We're here on a business trip, and the only reason we're here is to end the season with eight wins. We've been working hard for this game, and we're excited to play in it."

Senior quarterback Carson Coffman, also a redshirt freshman in 2006, agrees.

"We don't want to be known as another team that lost a bowl game here,” Coffman said. “We want to win and finish this season off on a positive note."

Even those who weren't with or following K-State at the time are fired up about the opportunity.

"Every team that makes a bowl game has to be appreciative for the season they had and what they get to do," junior safety Emmanuel Lamur said. "We feel very blessed about this, too, but we're here to accomplish something big."

How big? That's hard to say. Beating Syracuse, a 7-5 team from the Big East, won't pay any immediate dividends beyond improving from last season’s win total of six, but baby steps have always mattered to Snyder.

His first time around, Snyder's strategy for success in the early years was simple: Schedule winnable nonconference games, pile up enough victories to become eligible for a bowl, grow as a team during extra practices and enjoy the national exposure that comes from playing in the postseason.

Winning six of those bowl games helped K-State rise steadily in the national polls and claim a Big 12 championship in 2003.

The blueprint has been a little different since Snyder's return, but bowl victories still count the same.

"We understand the situation," Kendall said. "Hopefully, we can use this season as a foundation, get a win here and send this program off in a good direction. Maybe this can help Coach Snyder get Kansas State back to where he had it in his first years here. That would mean a lot. It's very important for me, and everyone here, to be a part of that journey."

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