Kansas State's football season is at that proverbial fork in the road. The Wildcats are at an expected four wins and one loss, but concerning is the fact that they had to rally for victories against UCLA, Iowa State and Central Florida to be 4-1.
It's in the last two games against UCF and Nebraska, that the Wildcats have shown not a glimpse of team improvement, which starts, but certainly doesn't end, at the quarterback position, which will continue to start with Carson Coffman on Thursday at Kansas.
While K-State is well above the .500 mark, the Nebraska game prevents coach Bill Snyder for talking about the team's continued progress.
"The Nebraska game would prevent me from saying yes (to progress)," said Snyder. "You know there will be dips in the road as you go along, but that was a setback."
A setback, yes, but Snyder has reminded his team that it was only a year ago at Texas Tech "… they scored 600 points against us and we didn't score any (really, it was 66-14), but then we came back the next week and played very good against Texas A&M (a 62-14 victory). You question how that can take place, and at the time I probably said I didn't know, but the deal is that it can happen again."
And the Wildcat players were prepared to tell how the rebound can happen.
"Everyone is a little more focused now," said KSU fullback Braden Wilson. "We know we have to pick it up. Even though Nebraska thumped us, we still have a little momentum of a 4-1 season. We can't let the Nebraska game affect us in a bad way."
Blake Slaughter said the time since the 35-point loss to the Cornhuskers had not been one of "bashing one another," but instead, "It was more of, ‘What can we learn from that game?' " The Wildcat linebacker called the current mood more intense "… from the players, to the coaches to the trainers. We are determined not to let that happen again. The intensity picked up a lot. We are all trying to rectify what happened last week."
K-State completes the first half of the season on Thursday against the University of Kansas, in Lawrence at 6:30 Thursday night.
A must win?
While that may be a bit of a stretch, well, then again, maybe not.
This KU game begins a stretch where the Wildcats will play five of their last seven games on the road. A game at Baylor, followed by home dates with Oklahoma State and Texas, and then road finales at Missouri, Colorado and North Texas will complete the season.
Beating the Jayhawks is huge in the fact that K-State went 0-5 last year in true road games, plus the victory over Iowa State at the neutral site of Arrowhead Stadium.
"This is the game that will set the tone for the rest of the season on how we're going to play on the road," said senior center Wade Weibert.
And, the opportunity to reach one of several goals for 2010.
Goal 1: Beat Kansas. To a certain degree, that always makes for a somewhat successful season.
Goal 2: Reach six wins, which in the Big 12, makes you 99 percent certain to reach a bowl game.
Let's say the North Texas game is a gimme victory at the end of the year, which leaves K-State needing just one more win of the remaining six conference games. The most logical bets would be Kansas this week, or Colorado in six weeks.
The others – Bears, Cowboys, Longhorns and Tigers – will not easy, home or away. Baylor and Missouri have dynamic quarterbacks; Texas is still Texas (unless Ron Prince is coaching against them), and, O-State's offense is most explosive.
Goal 3: Not just get to a bowl game, but have it be at least a mid-tier bowl game – Alamo, Insight or Holiday – as opposed to the Texas, Pinstripe and Dallas Football Classic. That would likely take an 8-4 record, or, going 4-3 the rest of the way.
FOR THE RECORD –
Here's the Big 12's bowl lineup for 2010 by selection:
** BCS National Title – Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 10
BCS – Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 1
Cotton – Dallas, Texas, Jan. 7 vs. SEC
Alamo – San Antonio, Texas, Dec. 29, Pac-10
Insight – Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 28, Big Ten
Holiday – San Diego, Calif., Dec. 30, Pac-10
Texas – Houston, Texas, Dec. 29, Big Ten
Pinstripe – New York City, N.Y., Dec. 30, Big East
Dallas Football Classic – Dallas, Texas, Jan. 1, Big Ten/ACC