Preseason polls don’t mean much to Chris Klieman. Never have. Never will.
There’s a reason for this. Throughout his head coaching career, he has always known where his team was going to rank well before the votes were tallied.
His North Dakota State teams were regularly picked to win not only the Missouri Valley Conference but the FCS championship. He never even had to look. The Bison were always favorites. Then they went out and won four national titles.
Things are a little different now that he is in charge at K-State. The Wildcats were picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 preseason poll, their lowest starting point since the conference dropped to 10 teams in 2011.
Expectations are low, at least from afar. It’s a big change for Klieman.
But he’s still not putting much stock into what outsiders think.
“It doesn’t help you win any games,” Klieman said Monday at Big 12 media days. “It doesn’t help you lose any games. It’s still whatever chip you have on your shoulder. You have to have a chip on your shoulder to be ranked No. 1, you have to have a chip on your shoulder to be eight, nine, 10 whatever we were.”
If Klieman changes his mind on preseason polls, this year’s prognostication could be a blessing in disguise.
It’s easy for a coach and a team to play the disrespect card. And the Wildcats can definitely play it this season.
“It made me a little mad,” K-State defensive end Reggie Walker said. “But where I am from we always keep a chip on our shoulder, so I am just trying to instill that to everyone on our defense. Put that chip on your shoulder. We aren’t ninth. We are one of the top contenders in the Big 12.”
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson said he would have preferred to have been picked last for extra motivation.
“This team is a lot different from last year’s team, completely different. Day and night, I would say,” K-State defensive end Wyatt Hubert said. “We have a really strong senior class that is ready to go out with a big bang. All the young guys and new guys are backing them up full throttle. Obviously we don’t want to finish last in the Big 12. Personally, I don’t think we will. We will finish near the top.”
The Wildcats have traditionally backed up that kind of talk over the years. The last two times they were picked to finish eighth in the preseason Big 12 poll they had tremendous seasons, finishing second in 2011 and fourth in 2016.
But they have failed to exceed expectations in either of the past two years when expectations were higher.
Thompson is eager to prove the doubters wrong. He has talked a big game since Klieman was hired as head coach, saying he intended to raise expectations beyond what they have been in recent seasons.
He didn’t want any teammates aiming for a bowl game when a conference championship was available. The preseason poll could have shaken his confidence. But it didn’t.
“I’m looking forward to putting a product on the field and showing everybody what we are capable of doing,” Thompson said, “and not just talking about it.”
There’s no such thing as low expectations at K-State.
“It’s still going out there and attacking every day and making sure you get yourself ready, because we’ve got 12 one-week seasons,” Klieman said. “That’s why you’ll never hear me emphasize one game more than the next. We have to put all of our eggs in our basket to get ready for Nicholls.”