MANHATTAN — All that Kansas State can do now is try to achieve perfection. That’s all the third-ranked Wildcats control.
The rest of their fate belongs in the hands of other teams, their coaches who vote in the polls, and some whirring computers that will crunch a bunch of numbers and spit out what they believe are the best two teams to play for a national championship.
Kansas State has already beaten three ranked teams on the road in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State, and blitzed then-No. 15 Texas Tech 55-24 on Saturday to remain undefeated.
The problem is that top-ranked Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and fourth-ranked Notre Dame are also perfect, and all of them have strong cases to play for the BCS championship — and that means a lot of scoreboard watching as the Wildcats play out the easiest four-game stretch of their season.
“It’s tough not to, knowing you’re so close, but man, you just have to focus in on next week, focus in on next game,” wide receiver Chris Harper said. “It’s really hard not to look ahead, but the position that we’re in, you can’t do it.”
It’s been more than a decade since the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) were in this position.
The last time they started a season with eight straight wins was 1999, when they eventually stumbled against Nebraska. The previous year, they were seven minutes from playing for a national title when Texas A&M staged a dramatic rally in the Big 12 title game that Sirr Parker capped with a touchdown run in the second overtime to deal the Wildcats their first loss.
The Wildcats won’t have to worry about a Big 12 title game this season, now that the league only has 10 members. And that could turn out to hurt them, denying them one last chance to rack up a marquee victory — perhaps in a rematch with the Sooners — in the final week of the season.
Instead, Kansas State’s final four games are against Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas.
That means the first undefeated season in school history might not be enough to book a trip to Miami if the Ducks and Fighting Irish are more impressive in finishing out their seasons against higher-rated teams such as Southern California, Stanford and Oregon State.
“I mean, you look around the country and they make more of college football than they do of the Presidential elections. That shuts down on Saturday and all it is is football,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “Everybody gets caught up in it. The world gets caught up in it.”
Interesting that Snyder brought up the subject of elections, by the way, because the Wildcats could be doing some campaigning down the stretch.
Along with the computer formulas, the BCS standings also take into account a team’s ranking in two polls: one comprised of coaches and the other, called the Harris Poll, which includes former players, coaches, administrators and current and former media members.
Snyder will leave the stumping to someone else, though. That’s not his style. He’s just worried about beating the Cowboys next Saturday.
“It is so easy to lose sight of things,” he said. “I am proud of our young guys up to this point in time because you do not know about tomorrow. Up to this point in time they have handled it well. They go back to work. It is not easy, it just gets harder. I keep saying there is a border right there, and what we do from this point in time on will define us collectively.”
Collin Klein, who bolstered his Heisman Trophy resume with another four-touchdown performance against Texas Tech, is taking the same detached view as his sagely coach.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys here, too, who’ve been around, and we understand where we’ve been and where we’ve come from not so very recently, not too far back down the road,” Klein said. “That’s very vivid in our minds.”
The Wildcats went 6-6 in Klein’s freshman season, back when he was a wide receiver. They went 7-6 two years ago, when Harper arrived as a transfer from — of all places — Oregon.
Now, after winning 10 games and reaching the Cotton Bowl last season, they’re playing their way into the BCS picture. If not the national title game, one of the other bowl games.
“We don’t have anybody who’s been in this position before,” Harper said. “This is new for everybody. I don’t know how other teams have done it before. We’re going to have to figure out how to do it. We’re going to have to figure out how to take the praise and not let it get to our heads.
“We have to stay humble and hungry, because we haven’t won anything,” he said. “All these years, we’ve won a lot of games here, but we still haven’t won a national championship and things like that to show for it. But without winning these next four games, we can’t get there.”