Gus Johnson has never been to Manhattan, but he knows his Kansas State football.
The enthusiastic play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports, called a pair of K-State games last season — the win at Texas and the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. This season Johnson, along with color analyst Charles Davis, called the wins at Oklahoma and West Virginia.
But Saturday, Johnson will make his first trip to Manhattan for the Texas Tech game at 2:30 p.m. on FOX. His trip comes almost three years after calling one of the most memorable K-State basketball games in school history — the Wildcats’ double-overtime win in the NCAA tournament against Xavier in Salt Lake City.
“I’m just tickled pink to be going out there and having a chance to watch the game and seeing where this K-State team will wind up,” Johnson said during a phone interview with The Mercury Monday.
Johnson thinks this Wildcats team — ranked No. 3 in the BCS — could wind up playing for the national title.
“These kids understand what’s on the line and where they are in the season right now and what they have a chance to accomplish,” he said. “And I think they can do it because I don’t think Coach Snyder is going to let them get ahead of themselves.”
Johnson said the Wildcats’ remaining five games on the schedule works to K-State’s advantage, as it chases its second undefeated regular season in school history.
“If you look at their schedule, they have a really good chance at doing it if they don’t get ahead of themselves,” he said. “If you can beat Texas Tech at home, you get Oklahoma State at home, on the road at Baylor and TCU and then wrap it up at home against Texas. I think the hardest part of the schedule coming up is these next two games. They’ve already proven they can win at Oklahoma, Iowa State and West Virginia, so I think they’re confident in thinking they can win on the road at TCU and at Baylor.
“Kansas State has had a lot of success against Texas the last couple years and they’re going to be taking them on at home, potentially to play for the national championship. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.”
Though K-State won 10 games a year ago, Johnson thinks this season’s version looks more comfortable in what it does. And of course, part of that is not making costly mistakes.
“They’re still rugged, they’re still incredibly disciplined and they don’t beat themselves,” he said, when comparing the two teams. “They have a quarterback that is playing lights-out in Collin Klein. Their running back John Hubert is playing like an All-American candidate as well. And Arthur Brown may be the best defender in the nation, as least one of them.
“They take on the personality of their head coach. Coach (Bill) Snyder is a legend and he’s still on top of his game.”
Johnson also thinks Klein has taken huge leaps from his junior season when he burst onto the scene in his first year as the everyday starter — none bigger than performance against West Virginia last Saturday when he passed for a career-high 323 yards and scored seven touchdowns in the 55-14 victory.
“I don’t know how much of it had to do with West Virginia either,” he said. “You just see his mechanics are much better— and he’s a senior. He’s worked on it. That’s why kids go to college. You aren’t going to be the same player your freshman year, sophomore year or junior year that you’ll be your senior year. He’s put in a lot of time into his game — you can see it, it’s obvious.”
But as impressive as Klein has been this season, Johnson is equally as impressed with the second turnaround orchestrated by Snyder — just four years after taking over for Ron Prince, who was fired during the 2008 season.
“I think the whole world is impressed by it,” Johnson said. “If you follow college football, you have to be impressed by what Coach Snyder has done — what he’s done and how he’s done it. He’s a man of few words. He’s a man who believes in doing things a certain way, the right way, the hard way, the disciplined way, which is not easy.
“You can just tell his players believe in him and they believe in his system. And his system is paying major dividends for them right now. He took over that program when nobody wanted it, built it once, so why couldn’t he build it again? He’s done it.
“I just wish the best for him, his team, the school, the city. Coach Snyder means so much to Manhattan, Kansas. No wonder the stadium is named after him and there’s a highway named after him. He’s brought a lot of business and pride back to that small community.”