This is the perfect storm Kansas State coach Bill Snyder routinely warns his team about. It’s what every football coach warns their team about this time of year.
The Wildcats, coming off an emotional 52-13 blowout victory at home against the Miami Hurricanes last Saturday, are one week away from opening Big 12 play at No. 5 Oklahoma.
But before K-State meets the Sooners, the Wildcats first have to get past North Texas, a program that has some unusual history with Snyder — both good and bad.
It’s the classic trap game for a team on the rise like K-State, now ranked No. 15/14 nationally and coming off a pair of routs to open the season.
“I’ve proven that I can probably overdo it sometimes,” Snyder said Tuesday. “The message is probably what it is week in and week out — don’t take anything for granted and take it one day at a time and not look beyond trying to prepare ourselves today.
“They know all the examples of upset victories… realizing that a team that is not favored has a tremendous amount of motivation to become motivated to play extremely well.”
North Texas about derailed the Wildcats’ bowl hopes in 2010 when K-State traveled to Denton, Texas, for a rare end-of-the-season nonconference clash needing one more win to become bowl eligible.
K-State barely won that game, needing a late kickoff return to keep the Mean Green at bay, 49-41.
“If we don’t run a kickoff return back late in the ballgame after they had just run one back, we might easily have lost that ballgame and lost the opportunity to play in a bowl game,” Snyder said.
Snyder’s history against North Texas goes further back than that game. His first win with the Wildcats came against the Mean Green in 1989. The 20-17 victory marked K-State’s only win that season and snapped a 30-game winless streak.
“It was the only win that season and probably saved my sanity,” Snyder said. “What was significant to me is that at the end of the season I was able to look back and see that we had improved week in and week out, even though we didn’t win any ballgames.”
Though the circumstances Saturday are quite different for K-State than they were in 1989, the magnitude of the game couldn’t be much bigger, as the Wildcats look to stay perfect in a final tune-up before their nationally-televised tilt with Oklahoma next week.
“Every day is fine tuning for us,” Snyder said. “It’s improving mistakes, which I would equate to us just trying to get better with what we do. I don’t think there is a game… Is it a matter of saying we need to get everything in order before we get into conference play? I’m trying to get everything in order before we practice today.”
Given that, Snyder’s message to his team his simple.
“It wasn’t about Miami and it’s not about North Texas,” he said. “It’s not about anybody we play in the future. It’s all about our youngsters, our coaches, our team and what we do day in and day out in preparation.
“The bottom line is that if you play poorly against North Texas, then you’ll lose. If you play poorly against Miami, then you’ll lose. If you play poorly against Missouri State, then you lose. You have to prepare yourself to play well. There are no guarantees after that, but you have a far better chance if you’re playing as well as you can play.”
It’s a message Snyder’s been preaching at K-State since that first win back in 1989. But it’s also a message that needs repeating, especially given the fear of possibly overlooking a team that almost upset Snyder’s own Wildcats two years ago.
There’s no doubt this year’s Wildcats have the attention of second-year North Texas coach Dan McCarney after the Mean Green (1-1) faced LSU on the road two weeks ago and lost 41-14.
“For the second time in three weeks, we’re going to be playing one of the best teams in the country,” McCarney said. “They’re ranked 14th and 15th, but they’re clearly playing like a top-10 team in America. I know what they look like, I’ve been a part of them and I’ve coached against them many times… When you just obliterate a team like Miami like they did last Saturday, we know what we’re getting into.”
It was just last week that another Sun Belt Conference team — Louisiana-Monroe — upset Top-10 Arkansas and ruined the Razorbacks’ season.
Again, that’s why Snyder says this week is only about the Wildcats.
“We need to be the same week in and week out, we need to be the same day in and day out,” Snyder said. “You get sick and tired of me saying the same things and I know our players do too, but at some point in time, it sinks in.
“It really is about us. If we don’t make the whole-hearted investment to become a better football team today, then you really have no chance. If you make that investment, you have a chance, no matter who you play.”