Kansas State University

Winning hasn't gone to Wildcats' heads

Kansas State beats University of Central Florida in Manhattan on Saturday, 17-13. (Sept. 25, 2010)
Kansas State beats University of Central Florida in Manhattan on Saturday, 17-13. (Sept. 25, 2010) The Wichita Eagle

MANHATTAN — With more than a week to prepare for Kansas State's next game against Nebraska, Bill Snyder has time to think.

How have the Wildcats played so far? Where do they need to improve? What adjustments should be made on the recruiting front?

The K-State coach has been running all kinds of questions through his mind lately, and even handed out self-evaluation forms to his players in an attempt to search deeper.

But there is one area in which his thoughts are surprisingly calm right now: his team's psyche.

Though the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2003, and are one of 25 undefeated teams in the country, he is not worried about how his players will handle success.

As recently as last week Snyder said he was concerned about the possibility that the winning streak might go to his team's head. He pointed out how K-State lost its final two games a year ago after winning five of its previous seven. That team couldn't rise to the next level.

But Snyder thinks this squad is different, mainly because he wouldn't consider its accomplishments to date — three come-from-behind victories against UCLA, Iowa State and Central Florida, and an easy win over Missouri State — all that successful.

"Sometimes when you maybe don't play as well as you can," Snyder said, "Or maybe don't play very well at all and are fortunate enough to come out on top, it keeps your attitude in check."

Attitude? Ask K-State players about that word, and they say they have none. It left town with the Golden Knights, who held a lead over the Wildcats for all but a few moments on Saturday.

"We don't have that swagger about us," said right tackle Zach Hanson. "Nobody is saying, 'We're 4-0 and we're the best team out there.' Last week was a humbling week."

A win over the No. 6 Cornhuskers would go a long way toward establishing that swagger, and would probably vault the Wildcats into the national rankings for the first time since Snyder's return to the sideline, but the players aren't using that as motivation.

"We want to keep that in the back of our mind," tight end Andre McDonald said, "but still come out here with the mentality of when we started to keep this streak going."

That means focusing on simply getting better before the next time they take the field. In order to stay undefeated, they will need to.

Despite some fourth-quarter heroics, the Wildcats struggled to contain a running quarterback against Central Florida and couldn't get their normally strong rushing attack going against a quick defense. By all accounts Nebraska will be stronger in both areas with dual-threat quarterback Taylor Matinez, who averages 257 all-purpose yards, and its Blackshirt defense, which allows fewer than 13 points a night.

It's a challenge no undefeated team should overlook. Snyder is at ease knowing K-State isn't.

"You should never feel like you're there," senior left guard Zach Kendall said. "There is always all kinds of improvement to make. We feel good about 4-0, but we've been coming close in a lot of games and we need to really perform better than we have."

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