Sunday, November 29, 2015

Kinder: It’s time for Cats to put up or shut up

Just about any other year, I’d be the first to say must-wins in Week 5 of the college football season might be a little premature. But that’s exactly what Kansas State is facing this week and next if the Wildcats intend to play in a bowl game at the end of the season.

No, I’m not saying K-State has to beat Oklahoma State and Baylor in back-to-back weeks — although that sure would help. But the Wildcats need to win one of them, steal one somehow. And at this point, it would be a quite the heist if K-State came away with a victory in either one of those two games.

I know Baylor hasn’t played anyone yet. But so what? Have you seen those offensive numbers? I don’t care who the Bears have or have not done it against, they look scary good so far and have to be considered a big-time favorite in Manhattan in two weeks.

Clearly Oklahoma State is beatable. West Virginia did it and we all remember how good that defense was a year ago. Despite the loss, the Cowboys aren’t on the mat just yet. They’re wobbly for sure, but playing at home this Saturday against a K-State team that has been all bark and no bite, could go a long way in restoring order in Stillwater.

Like the Cowboys, K-State is also looking to right the ship after a loss — two weeks ago at Texas. And while there should be no shame in losing to Texas — unless you’re the Wildcats who hadn’t lost to the Longhorns in 10 years — that loss is just part of the bigger problem facing K-State going forward.

As good as the Longhorns looked that night in Austin, I still don’t believe they’re a very good football team. Oklahoma State is better. Baylor too. So is Oklahoma, maybe Texas Tech, and even West Virginia deserves a little credit after its big win.

Because of the early-season blunders, the Wildcats’ road to redemption now has to go through Stillwater and then eventually Lubbock and of course, Lawrence — with pit stops along the way in Manhattan against Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, TCU and Oklahoma.

The uphill battle the Wildcats face going forward is challenging and unforgiving. It won’t be easy. And none of the talking heads will give K-State much of a chance, if any, against the remaining opponents.

Generously giving K-State wins over Iowa State and Kansas right now, what other two games are you penciling in as a victories this season if things don’t change?

The bottom line is that K-State hasn’t given anyone a reason yet to think it’s capable of winning much of anything the rest of the way. Play like the Wildcats did against North Dakota State and Texas and K-State will be home for the holidays. Getting the chance to go back to a frigid, snowy New York for the Pinstripe Bowl even seems daunting right now — a reward that feels more like some sort of punishment for not finishing sixth in the Big 12.

I know I’m sounding like a party-pooper, but honestly, if K-State continues to play like it has this will be a season to forget. The Wildcats have been getting beat at their own game. They’re committing dumb penalties, turning the ball over carelessly, struggling to run the ball and haven’t stopped anybody defensively.

The bye week came at a perfect time. K-State needed that extra week. It was obvious. The Wildcats looked like a beaten team and sounded like a beaten team. Players’ heart and focus were challenged and questioned. Sure, not by name, but it wasn’t difficult to read between the lines.

After Texas, the Wildcats seemed like a team divided. There shouldn’t be a Team Sams or Team Waters. Both should be able to coexist and both should be able to help this team win. That’s the point — it’s a team. It’s not about one quarterback or the other quarterback. Neither cost the Wildcats a game in Austin on their own. That was an equal-opportunity effort that night.

It took a team effort to lose at Texas, just like it required a team effort to heal these past two weeks. The latter had to happen if the Wildcats are truly going to win as a team again.

We’ll see Saturday just how far they’ve come or not. K-State players said all the right things this week. They have a new focus, a renewed drive and a desire to prove everyone wrong. The us-against-the-world mentality is alive and well and back in business, they say.

But perhaps sophomore defensive end Marquel Bryant said it best.

“Talk is cheap.”

He’s right. Now prove it.


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