MANHATTAN — It may seem odd that an undefeated team, ranked third in the country and barreling toward the BCS title game, would consider itself an underdog.
Old habits die hard at Kansas State.
“We’re always going to consider ourselves the underdogs just because of what everybody says all the time about us and how we’re not the best athletes and everything else,” Kansas State punter Ryan Doerr said. “I don’t think really much has changed to that.”
Despite its recent success, including wins over West Virginia and Texas Tech the past two weeks, Kansas State still has much to prove.
Voters in the coaches’ and Harris polls still have them slotted behind unbeaten Oregon, and Notre Dame is giving chase, and that poses a problem with the two polls making up a big chunk of the BCS rankings that determine who plays for the national championship.
“We still have a lot of people doubting us,” Wildcats fullback Braden Wilson said. “That’s one of the things that drives us. We still think about that. We still use that.
“But at the same time, whether people are telling us we’re going to win or telling us we’re going to lose, it’s not going to change how we approach the game. When people are doubting, it’s just a little more motivation.”
It’s easy to find examples of how players have developed this underdog mentality.
Kansas State rarely gets big-name recruits, and most of the players making up the roster were rated three stars or less out of high school. So they’re saddled with a reputation of being not quite as quick, not quite as fast, not quite as strong as many other schools.
Maybe those perceptions are why Kansas State was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 last year by the league’s coaches, only to win 10 games. Or why the coaches still guessed the Wildcats would finish in the bottom half this season.
So while Kansas State (8-0, 5-0) is undefeated heading into Saturday night’s game against Oklahoma State, players are more than happy to maintain the role of the underdog.
“It’s a good mindset for this team to have because it doesn’t allow us to overlook anybody or any game,” Kansas State wide receiver Curry Sexton said. “Obviously you don’t want to start getting high on yourself because that’s when you get knocked off.”
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said he does not believe in underdogs, because the competitive balance in the Big 12 is too great to say anybody is an underdog.
More important to Snyder is whether his players consider themselves to be the favorite.
That’s why he consistently mentions the nail-biting nature of Kansas State’s 10-7 win in the 2011 season opener against Eastern Kentucky, and why he reminds players that this year’s 14-point victory over North Texas was probably about half of what the margin of victory could have been.
For Snyder, it all goes to prove two points: No team can be taken for granted, and odds-makers do not make one iota of difference.
“Somebody’s betting money somewhere and established a point spread, and I guess they win a certain portion of the time to end up making money,” Snyder said, “but they’re wrong an awful lot of the time.
“The point is, we see them, we know what kind of football team they are. Everybody that plays them knows what kind of football team they are.”
To everybody outside of the Vanier Football Complex, the Wildcats still seem to get overlooked. To those inside, that’s just fine.
“I think this team is very confident but not overconfident,” Sexton said. “We feel like we can win every ballgame, but we’re a team that doesn’t allow our confidence to get in the way of what we need to do on the field.
“We realize that we are what we got, and we go out there on Saturdays and we just have to do our jobs. Underdog or not, we’re just going to play like the underdog.”