Kansas State has a problem a lot of other football programs would love to have right about now.
While others are busy planning for the holidays and settling in to watch a month’s worth of bowl games on television, the Wildcats are busy getting ready to play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 in Glendale, Ariz.
But with two weeks remaining before K-State’s BCS game in Arizona, the Wildcats are trying to strike the right balance between preparations for the Ducks, extra work for younger players and maintaining a keen focus — a challenge for any team that hasn’t played a game since Dec. 1.
“They, for the most part, have been into the practices,” Snyder said Wednesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the Wildcats defeated Texas in the regular season finale. “It’s not easy in bowl preparation because you have a long time… (Tuesday night’s) practice wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, but up to that point in time they have been pretty diligent about their work.”
K-State (11-1) returned to full practices on Dec. 10 and will continue bowl prep until the Wildcats break for the holiday on Saturday afternoon for three days. Players will return to campus Dec. 26 and then depart for the Phoenix area on Dec. 28.
“The biggest challenge is whether or not you can get wholeheartedly into the preparation when you know you still have 15 practices left before the actual event itself,” Snyder said. “During the course of the season you start practicing on Monday and you have four practices. There’s a sense of urgency that exists at that time. Now, it’s a matter of creating that sense of urgency.”
K-State quarterback Collin Klein said that urgency exists because the Wildcats are still trying to do something no team in school history has done before — finish with 12 wins.
“There are pros and cons to everything,” the Heisman Trophy finalist said. “The pro is that we get to rest up a little and get healthy, the bad part is that you don’t play a game for a month. That’s a long, long time. It is what it is, so you have to latch on and take the benefits and overcome the difficulties. But it’s not easy not playing for a month.”
Klein said despite a weeklong layoff following the Texas game, it was pretty much business as usual once everyone returned last week.
“We pretty much picked up where we left off, but we’ve spent a lot of time working on our stuff and playing against the defense, obviously with Oregon in mind, but not necessarily specific gameplan stuff,” said Klein, who returned to Manhattan after an awards tour that included trips to Orlando, Fla., Baltimore, Md., and ultimately New York for the Heisman ceremony.
“It’s been good and I think we’ve been able to maximize the time, but need to finish off the week strong before we get a little break.”
Snyder said another hurdle in bowl prep is understanding exactly what it is you’re expecting the Ducks to do when the two teams meet in two weeks in a 7:30 p.m. (CST) kickoff on ESPN. It could just be a case of overthinking the challenges Oregon presents, but Snyder wouldn’t know any other way.
“You have the opportunity to study film more thoroughly over a longer period of time, but there’s good and bad in that,” Snyder said. “The more you see it, the more you study it and the more time you invest in it and you get a good feel for what the opponent does, then you have to sit back and reflect. We’ll prepare for what we see, but are we going to see on gameday what we’ve spent all this time preparing for?
“There’s an opportunity for any football program in the country to put in a lot of offense and a lot of defense, make a lot of changes, if you chose to do so, which would put the opponent in the position where they’re practicing against things they aren’t going to see and not practicing against things they will see.”
Zimmerman to return?
K-State safety Ty Zimmerman hasn’t played since the Wildcats’ 23-10 win at TCU on Nov. 10 due to a leg injury, but it appears now that the junior could be set to make a return in time to play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
Zimmerman, who was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press after leading the Big 12 with five interceptions this season, spent the past few weeks on crutches and in a walking boot.
But Snyder said Wednesday the former Junction City star returned to practice last week and could be ready to go against Oregon in two weeks.
“Ty has been on the practice field and has done quite a bit of work,” Snyder said. “He hasn’t invested fully in any practice — hasn’t gone from beginning to end — but he’s been out there and done some things with us, yes.
“We’d like to think he would be on the field.”
K-State received five signed letters of intent on Wednesday from five junior college players, highlighted by Iowa Western All-American quarterback Jake Waters. The four others who signed include defensive end Devon Nash (Iowa Western), safety Travis Green (Iowa Western), linebacker Dakorey Johnson (Trinity Valley) and defensive back Nate Jackson (College of San Mateo).
The Wildcats did lose one verbal commitment on Wednesday, however, when linebacker Martrell Spaight signed with Arkansas and former K-State defensive coordinator Brett Bielema, who took over the Razorbacks after leaving Wisconsin two weeks ago.