Separated by just 90 miles, Kansas State and the University of Kansas are playing for two different things these days.
That’s been the case, though, for the better part of the last 20 years and exactly why for the Wildcats, Saturday’s game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium is simply just another game.
“I think we’ve been a pretty consistent group — we’re just trying to prepare the best we can for this opponent,” K-State quarterback Collin Klein said this week. “It’s obviously KU and a big game with a lot on the line for a lot of us. We know the importance of an in-state rival, but at the same time… we have really developed a consistent mentality of trying to prepare just like any other game.”
K-State, ranked No. 7 and undefeated at 4-0, has its sights set on winning a Big 12 title and perhaps even more this season, while the Jayhawks are just trying to win a game.
Kansas (1-3, 0-1) has lost 22 of its last 24 conference games — including all three in the series since Bill Snyder returned to the sidelines in 2009. In fact, Snyder is 16-4 against the Jayhawks and hasn’t lost at home to KU since 1989. K-State has outscored Kansas 135-38 the last three seasons — including a pair of 59-point scoring barrages in Lawrence the last two years.
“If you were to lose half of those ballgames, then there’s a great deal of concern and it becomes significant for a different reason,” Snyder said of the Wildcats’ dominance of the series since 1991. “But that’s true for no matter who you play.
“This year is this year and last year was eons ago. Whatever happened in the past doesn’t make any difference. It’s all about right now.”
Considering that, one has to ask the question — is the Sunflower Showdown a rivalry in name only at this point?
“There’s a level of importance and I’ve been around here long enough to understand it,” Klein said. “They don’t need to explain it to me anymore. I know it’s special. Being from Colorado, it’s a little different than here… There are a lot more teams and stuff going on with professional teams (in Colorado).
“In Kansas, it’s a little different — you’re either a K-State fan or a KU fan and everybody likes the Chiefs.”
While there is a certain amount of bragging rights that go along with this annual game, at the end of the day, for K-State at least, the Wildcats are singing the tune that this is really just the next game on the schedule. It’s important because a win is needed to keep the K-State’s goals intact.
“Our youngsters feel strongly about the game,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “But then we’re going to play in another week. Whoever we play then, our guys are going to feel awfully strong about that game as well.”
It really is business as usual for K-State.
“I don’t think there’s been a game that we’ve gone into and haven’t felt that it was the most important game that we’ve played and that the opponent was a very significant opponent,” Snyder said.
Snyder understands the significance of the game for the in-state crowd, though, as well. He might understand it better than most after dominating the series the last 20 years and watching a carousel of coaches go through Lawrence unable to pry the Governor’s Cup from Vanier’s lobby very often.
“It doesn’t mean this game isn’t important for some — if some of them had to pick out one game this might be it,” Snyder said. “That might be somebody who has circumstances that make it even more significant — have a split family, one from KU and one from Kansas State. There are a variety of different circumstances.”
For KU, new head coach Charlie Weis has offered a different perspective on the rivalry, one he’s played up since taking over for Turner Gill and with Missouri now in the SEC.
“I don’t want every Kansas fan to be mad at me, but it’s actually a pretty good role model,” Weis said this week, referencing the success K-State has had the last 20 years. “Everyone wants to look at it differently than that, but from my perspective, they’re doing a lot of things right. So, let’s try to get to the level, first. I mean, if we can get there in the not-too-distant-future, that would be a good place to get to and let’s go from there. But let’s get there first.
“Like I said, I’m not going to be dumb enough to sit there and say I’m going to wave a magic wand and it’s going to happen overnight, but that’s where we have to get to first.”
Weis believes he can get the Jayhawks on track. It wasn’t all that long ago that KU won three straight games over the Wildcats — from 2006-08 against Ron Prince. Remember, the Jayhawks went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2007 under Mark Mangino, so Weis knows it’s possible.
“I’m using that as one of the things, ‘hey, here’s them, here’s you,’” he said. “Why is that? You’re all from Kansas, right? You’re all from the same conference, right? You both have the same recruiting base to go off of if you wanted to, right? Then why are they this and why are you that?’ And I think it’s a good role model, to be perfectly honest with you.”
When asked what he thought K-State’s advantage has been in the series of late, Weis pulled no punches.
“Starting with the head coach — that might be their biggest advantage,” he said. “Yeah, their coach is winning a lot more games than our coach is. It’s a good place to start.”
While KU is working to improve, the Wildcats know the Jayhawks aren’t a team they can take lightly when they kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday — televised on FX.
Look no further than the Wildcats’ 35-21 victory over North Texas in Week 3, a game K-State might have looked past with its matchup at Oklahoma looming a week later. After all, there is that game at No. 8 West Virginia in two weeks.
“It comes back to North Texas this year,” K-State linebacker Jarrell Childs said. “We know we didn’t play great and kind of took them for granted. We’re trying to keep that in mind, rather than think about KU’s struggles. Anything can happen any day. We know that.”