It’s been 17 days since Kansas State played its last football game, and yet another 16 remain before the Wildcats meet sixth-ranked Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Maintaining focus during this extended break leading up to the highly-anticipated matchup is the top priority for the Wildcats these days — something K-State coach Bill Snyder said shouldn’t be difficult.
“If you’re not interested in winning, it is probably pretty easy to be lax,” he said Tuesday during the final press conference before heading south to Arlington, Texas on New Year’s Day. “But if you really want to improve yourself and do well, then I think you would want to be into it pretty heavily.”
Last week K-State managed players’ schedules during finals week and graduation ceremonies on campus. The Wildcats — ranked No. 8 in the final BCS standings — will meet today and practice Thursday before allowing players to go home for the holidays for five days. The players will then return to Manhattan next Wednesday for three more practices before leaving for Texas for a week of practice and activities prior to the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 6 at Cowboys Stadium.
“When you get to the practice field, that is the only thing that you have got going — you can’t do homework or anything else out there,” Snyder said. “We go through this from time to time. It’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page.”
Finding motivation for this game shouldn’t be difficult for the Wildcats, who are aiming to win 11 games for just the seventh times in the program’s history. The bowl game caps a season in which K-State was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, yet found a way to win 10 games and finish second in the league.
“I think just the idea of how that last ballgame comes out because there is a long time between that one and the next one for the guys who are returning,” Snyder said. “The seniors want to go out on a very positive note. So, I think there are a lot of things that serve as motivation.”
While preparing for the Razorbacks (10-2) is the goal right now, getting a sneak peek at some of the Wildcats’ future stars is also important to Snyder — one of the benefits of getting the extra practice time with a bowl game.
“We’ve set aside quite a bit of time to work with younger guys,” Snyder said. “Some segments of most our of our practices have been dedicated to just that.”
Snyder identified some early standouts so far, including quarterback Daniel Sams and a trio of offensive linemen Cody Whitehair, Boston Stiverson and Drew Liddle.
“I hate to do this because I leave somebody off, but we’ve got a couple tight ends in Zach Trujillo and Zach Nemechek. We’ve got a couple running backs that I really like in DeMarcus Robinson and Robert Rose. They’ve done well. Daniel Sams is potentially a very talented quarterback.
“Defensively, Laton Dowling has certainly shown some capabilities for us up front. In the back end, Kip Daily has a chance to be a good player. Dorrian Roberts has a chance to do well in the back end too. There’s quite a few.”
Freshmen receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton both suffered injuries late this season. Snyder said “in all likelihood” neither one will be ready for the Cotton Bowl.
Snyder also said he hopes to get left tackle Manase Foketi back next season with a medical redshirt. The senior was injured in Week 2 against Kent State.
“We think we’ll have Foketi next season,” Snyder said. “We can’t file until the end of the season.”
K-State was only allotted 12,500 tickets for the Cotton Bowl, with many tickets surfacing on the secondary markets at very high prices — the second-highest average price among all bowl games, behind only the national title game.
On Tuesday, Snyder said he was disappointed that the bowl game tickets have become so difficult and expensive for the fans. After all, K-State has a rich tradition of its fans traveling to bowl games with more than 35,000 making the trip to Dallas the last time K-State played in the Cotton Bowl in 2001 and 40,000 going to the 1997 Cotton Bowl.
Yet, despite the inflated ticket prices, Snyder seemed optimistic that the Wildcats fans will still get there.
“K-State people will surprise everybody, because they’ll somehow, someway, find a way to get those tickets,” he said.