Kansas State has approached this bye week with cautious optimism, a feeling that mistakes that have plagued the Wildcats much of the season are finally getting corrected.
Even with a more positive outlook on life, the Wildcats are still in an uncomfortable position — owning a 2-4 overall record and 0-3 mark in the Big 12 with half the season left to play.
“We need to pick it up,” K-State sophomore safety Dante Barnett said this week. “My whole life, I’ve always been on a winning team and being 2-4 this year is shocking. I’ve never been in this situation. We know we could’ve won some of those games where we beat ourselves up.
“The next half of the season, we feel like we can improve on our mistakes so we can win a couple football games.”
K-State will need more than a couple wins if it hopes to make a bowl game for the fourth straight year. The Wildcats must go 4-2 in their final six games to do it — against West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas.
The Wildcats haven’t started a season 2-4 since 2004 when K-State finished 4-7 and missed out on a bowl for the first time in 11 years. For what it’s worth, that season, like this year’s, also followed a Big 12 title. The 2001 team began the year 2-4 and then found its groove to win four of its last five and make the Insight.com Bowl.
“Being 2-4 is never easy and neither is the response to it,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “How you respond to it and how you feel about it is difficult for the players, coaches and the people that are invested in this program. The important thing for us is not what could have been, but what are we going to do.
“That’s the way that we have to approach it, with the determination that says — what I say every single week — we have to eliminate the costly mistakes. We have to practice with the focus of doing exactly that, improve our practice time and therefore our performance level on gameday will improve.”
Though nobody probably expected a duplicate of last season’s title run, there were still high expectations for this group. But now, the league title is likely out of reach and so are the Wildcats’ chances of making another BCS game.
“It’s not what we were expecting at all,” fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. “We were expecting to come out and get a lot of wins in a row and push for that Big 12 championship again. We knew we had the players and we knew we could do it. Honestly, we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can’t compete for it anymore. I really thought we could’ve and we’ve just had too many mistakes. We could easily be 6-0 right now.”
But they’re not. Instead, it’s survival mode for the Wildcats as they try to salvage their season and still find something to play for in the end.
“When you have goals, my belief is sometimes people get caught off, particularly when you’re inexperienced or perhaps youthful, you look at the end result and you miss out on all the stuff that it takes to get there,” Snyder said. “I’m a little more inclined to look at the stuff that it takes to get there, to get where you want to go, where you truly desire to go, and focus on those things.
“Our approach therefore becomes consistent and it’s about those 16 goals and trying to execute those, and it doesn’t have anything to do with height or weight or 40 time, or anything else. It just depends upon what’s inside and what you set your mind to and attempt to accomplish. If you do that, then those things that you think of and dream of, you’ll have a better chance to achieve success.”
While improvement isn’t being judged by victories right now, Snyder says progress is being made.
Offensively, the Wildcats have made some strides. They’ve found a run game that was missing in the first several games — thanks to quarterback Daniel Sams carrying much of the load. And with the improved run game, K-State has started to look a little more like, well, K-State — a team that has traditionally tried to control the game and the clock on the ground.
“We are trying to get ourselves better, and in some cases we have,” Snyder said. “In terms of our last ballgame — we have improved play with our offensive line. I think that was evident to most people. I thought our quarterback play, even though we had some problems, as did our offensive line, was improved collectively.”
K-State has also improved defensively, holding Oklahoma State to just 85 yards on the ground and Baylor to only 109. That means something after Texas romped its way to 227 rushing yards. Even North Dakota State rushed for 215 in the opener.
“I thought the play of our front seven, with the exception of the last drive, was improved greatly,” Snyder said. “I think our effort collectively has improved. Although it wasn’t 100 percent, it was better. I think that we are beginning to practice better, which is most significant with me, and I think the result of the areas that I talked about where there was improvement was a result of their practice effort during the course of the week.”
K-State will also be helped greatly when receivers and return men Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson get back. Snyder said both could be back for the next game against West Virginia on Oct. 26.
That’s the target date for the Wildcats’ new season to start — with the Mountaineers and then Iowa State, and on down the line.
“It’s been on the team’s mind because we do have to win four of the next six games to see a bowl game,” receiver Kyle Klein said. “That’s something that we obviously all want to do. I think the rally cry is to just keep getting better. Every week we have gotten a little bit better and made improvements, so I think as a team, we are really close to getting traction and moving forward.
“Hopefully after the bye week we will be able to start back strong against West Virginia and gain momentum for the second half of the season.”