Kansas State University

K-State’s climbing the rankings again. Here’s why the Cats’ mindset is different now

Heading into Stillwater, Oklahoma, at the end of September, Kansas State was the No. 24-ranked team in the nation in the AP Top 25, and that got into some of the Wildcats’ heads.

On the heels of capturing their first road victory over an SEC team in school history — a 31-24 win at Mississippi State in their previous game — freshman receiver Joshua Youngblood said the Cats probably got a little ahead of themselves.

“We didn’t need to lose, but losing definitely opened up our eyes,” Youngblood said. “We got kicked in the mouth, but we just regrouped and focused on the process.”

K-State opened Big 12 play at Oklahoma State fresh off not only that big win at Mississippi State, but a bye week to rest up. The Wildcats left Stillwater Sept. 28 with a 26-13 loss in which they’d mustered just 76 yards of total offense at halftime. OSU had 283.

And two weeks later, K-State returned to Bill Snyder Family Stadium and suffered another conference loss — 31-12 to Baylor.

Flash back to today: After three straight emotional wins, K-State (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) is ranked again. What’s more, the Wildcats checked in at No. 16 in the first College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night.

Youngblood said there has been a change. He and his teammates are blocking out talk of rankings and polls.

“It doesn’t matter where they rank us,” Youngblood said. “They could say we’re a top 15 team. It wouldn’t even matter anymore. We are going to try to go out there and dominate.”

It would be easy for K-State to get wrapped up in its laurels. The Wildcats are coming off three emotional wins.

First, K-State earned its first Big 12 triumph of the season — and coach Chris Klieman’s first since taking over the program — beating TCU 24-17 on Oct. 19. After the game, Klieman ran to the old friend who’d hired him in Manhattan, athletic director Gene Taylor, and gave him a hug.

Klieman described the moment as “elation.”

Seven days later, K-State shocked the country with a 48-41 win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma. It was the Wildcats’ first win over a top five team since 2006.

And to put a cherry on top, K-State followed that up with a 38-10 win over rival Kansas in the Sunflower Showdown.

The Wildcats begin the third period of their season Saturday at Texas. Klieman said his team’s captains have done an outstanding job of keeping the team grounded, humble and hungry.

“You only get 12 opportunities,” Klieman said. “You better keep the emotions high every chance you can. That’s the challenge we have every week, is to make sure we prepare each day and that come Saturday the preparation is in place and the guys can cut it loose and have fun with their brothers.”

K-State freshman Joshua Youngblood had his best game as a collegian against Oklahoma. He said he was as fired up as he could remember ahead of the game; he wanted to show people what he could do against one of the best programs in the country.

That opportunity rises again Saturday in Austin. Texas (5-3, 3-2) is tied with Alabama for the third-most wins in college football history at 913. Although K-State is 10-9 against the Longhorns all-time, the Cats have lost three of their past four to Texas, and three straight at Darrel K. Royal Memorial Stadium.

KSU senior tight end Blaise Gammon said he has seen a huge change in the Wildcats’ mentality and focus since the Mississippi State game.

He also said that now isn’t the time to let up.

“There is a definite balance,” Gammon said. “It would have been easy for us to ride the wave, but it’s so important to have a great prep week. It was a very emotional, challenging win over KU, but another one’s coming up this week at Texas.

“Now it’s about blocking out any external noise.”

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

Wichita Eagle preps reporter Hayden Barber brings the area updates on all high school sports while adding those hard-to-find human-interest stories on Wichita’s student-athletes.