MANHATTAN — Tysyn Hartman admits it is fun to be on Kansas State's football roster right now.
With the Wildcats on top of the Big 12 North, all kinds of success is within their grasp. A trip to the Big 12 championship game, the chance to become bowl eligible... they are exciting possibilities, and Hartman says they are achievable.
"But," the sophomore safety said this week, before pausing for a brief sigh, "I still think people don't quite think we can do it."
That's where Kansas State's trip to Norman, Okla., on Saturday comes in. The Wildcats will take on No. 22 Oklahoma in a game that will have a minor effect on the North Division standings but could mean everything in terms of gaining regional and national respect.
Simply put, if K-State upsets Oklahoma, people will start taking the Wildcats seriously.
"That would be a big win," K-State senior running back Keithen Valentine said. "We've been underdogs throughout the whole season and we went and lost some games we shouldn't have. But we came through and our record is looking good. We're on top of the North and I don't think people expected that. So if we go down there and beat them, it would be big."
Lack of a signature victory is one of the reasons K-State has yet to win over the doubters. Right now, skeptics say the Wildcats lead the North because of a weak early conference schedule and a recent spurt of strong play they can't sustain.
K-State has yet to play a ranked opponent and Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska — the teams originally picked to win the North — are still to come, as well.
Some also point to a 66-14 loss at Texas Tech as evidence that K-State is overachieving at the moment.
The Wildcats were big underdogs in that game, and they are again this week — OU is favored by 28 points.
Senior quarterback Grant Gregory says K-State is up for the challenge this time.
"We're the underdog, everybody knows that," he said. "But I don't care if we're playing the Patriots, we're going to expect to play well and expect to win. It doesn't matter who you play."
The Wildcats have no reason to be timid. Against Oklahoma, they truly have nothing to lose.
Whatever the outcome, they can still win the North by closing out the season strong. With wins in their final three games, they will lock up the North division. All it will take to earn a bowl bid is wins in their two remaining home games. Oklahoma has no influence on that.
All that's really on the line in Norman is respect.
For K-State players right now, that's a lot.
"They're a great team and a great program," Gregory said. "Just to get a chance to go in there and play is awesome. If we could somehow pull out a win, it would be amazing."