Kansas State motivated to reverse losing bowl trend

K-State football players Dante Barnett (right) and Tyler Lockett celebrate with coach Bill Snyder after the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2013.
K-State football players Dante Barnett (right) and Tyler Lockett celebrate with coach Bill Snyder after the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2013. The Wichita Eagle

Dante Barnett has a story to tell young Kansas State football players.

It’s the tale of how he hoisted a trophy in front of applauding fans following a 31-14 victory over Michigan in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It begins with a series of focused practices, shifts into sharp game execution and ends in celebration.

His teammates like hearing it mostly because they haven’t experienced anything like it.

“Only a few of us were here when went down to Arizona and won that bowl that,” said Barnett, a senior defensive end. “That was one of the better feelings I have had, ending a season with a win. Other than that, we haven’t won a bowl game.”

K-State hasn’t found much bowl success in recent years. A resounding win against Michigan remains its lone postseason victory since 2002. The Wildcats have gone 1-7 in their last eight bowl games, leaving seniors like Barnett as the only active K-State players that have been part of a bowl victory.

Bill Snyder has led the Wildcats to a regular-season record of 64-32 since he returned to the sideline as coach in 2009. Yet their bowl record is 1-5. Overall, he is 201-105-1 with a bowl record of 7-10.

K-State players make their seventh straight bowl trip against Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl next Wednesday.

“It’s a really big game,” K-State sophomore right tackle Dalton Risner said. “I have never won a bowl game … We are not really known for winning our bowl games.

“The last bowl game we won was the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Before that it was a long streak of not winning, either. It’s a huge game. We want to go out there and get a win. We don’t want to keep making it back to these bowl games and keep losing.”

Why has K-State struggled in recent bowl games? There are many theories.

For starters, the competition tends to be stronger than what the Wildcats regularly encounter during the season. Three of their last five bowl opponents – Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and UCLA in the Alamo Bowl – were ranked in the top 15.

Bowl preparation is also much different from regular-season preparation.

Give Snyder and his coaching a staff a week to get ready for an opponent, and they will take advantage. K-State coaches spend countless hours studying future opponents in the offseason, going over replays of previous games months in advance. Not every coaching staff devotes the same attention to K-State, theoretically giving the Wildcats an edge.

But K-State didn’t spend any time scouting Texas A&M before the start of this bowl season.

Shortly after the bowl matchups were announced, Snyder admitted he knew little about the Aggies. Both teams get a month to prepare for this game. There is no scouting advantage.

“It’s not exactly the same, not quite as much,” Snyder said. “We still have time to watch all their tape. There is a plethora of different films to study and games to study, but you aren’t paying attention to them week in, week out. That is probably where the difference is.

“When we get into our season, even though we might not play somebody for two or three weeks down the road, at least you have an understanding of what they are doing.”

K-State also tends to be a unique challenge for Big 12 teams. The Wildcats play at a slower pace than most of their conference rivals, making them difficult to prepare for in a short time. But their style isn’t always foreign to nonconference opponents that get weeks to study them.

But none of that mattered when K-State jumped to a 21-6 halftime lead over Michigan and never looked back.

Why was that team successful? It started in practice.

“That team took it upon themselves and said, ‘We are tired of losing these bowl games. We are going to take it one practice at a time and approach these practices like a game,’” senior running back Charles Jones said. “Practices were hard. We were working, we were hitting, we were banging. When it came to the game it was easy to us. That is what we are doing this year, coming in with that mindset.”

Barnett remembers how the seniors on that roster like Blake Slaughter and Ty Zimmerman took command of the defense and pushed everyone around them.

Fast forward three years and he is trying to do the same, for himself and his teammates.

He wants K-State’s young players to make their own successful bowl stories.

“Our senior class and our whole team want to end the season like we did back then,” Barnett said. “We want to finish the season with a win.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett