Ranked Wildcats Look for Big 12 North Title

It's two weeks before the opener against North Texas, but third-year Kansas State coach Ron Prince is high enough on his Wildcats to be talking about winning the Big 12 North championship. That's due to the number of returnees, but also the growth in such newcomers as Keithen Valentine and Logan Dold at running back, and Olu Hall at linebacker.

Kansas State ... No. 22 in the nation! Ron Prince wasn't touching the preseason national ranking handed out this week by Playboy Magazine.

Flashing a wide grin after Saturday's practice, Prince said, "I'm not going to try to say anything clever about that."

Turning serious, the third-year coach said, "If we play better defense, we will have the opportunity to accomplish some of the things we want to accomplish and be among the better teams."

What Prince was openly saying, however, was that winning the Big 12 North was the mission statement of this 2008 football team. And with that, would come a national billing significantly higher than No. 22.

"We expect to win the North. That's what our goal is and what we expect to do," Prince said. "We come here each year to be competitive in doing that."

Asked if anything less would be acceptable, Prince said, "Anything else is a nice season, a good season, but our goal is to win the North." Reaching such a goal would put the Wildcats back into postseason play, which Prince has a definite opinion about.

"Reaching the postseason is important to everybody ... players, coaches, everybody, and in every program," Prince said. "I can't think of a scenario where we wouldn't want to play as deep into December and January as we possibly could."

Asked if there was a level of postseason play he would be satisfied with, Prince said, "We want to win the North, and then you have a chance to play in the championship game, which will give you a positive bowl experience." But he added, "There is no such thing as a bad bowl game."

In 2006, Prince led K-State to a 7-6 record, which included a loss to Rutgers in the Texas Bowl. Last year, the Wildcats went 5-7. DOLD CLIMBS TO NO. 2: One of the bright spots in the fall camp has been the emergence of Logan Dold at running back.

After Saturday's practice Dold was listed No. 2 at the position behind starter Keithen Valentine.

"It seems like I just graduated, so all of this has come as a surprise," said Dold, who was the star in Garden Plain High School's 14-0 season in 2007. "Some of it is a little overwhelming right now."

The 6-1, 195-pound Dold calls himself "... more of a downhill runner without the quickness of some of our other running backs."

Of the Valentine and Dold 1-2 punch, Prince said, "Both of those young men have demonstrated the skill set to play at this level. Both have shown they can run with power, and then (Dee) Bell and (Justin) Woods have demonstrated tremendous a speed factor that can change the pace of the game a little bit."

Of his backfield mates, quarterback Josh Freeman said, "They all have a different flavor, but they're all good backs. Valentine has that quickness, and Dold just runs hard. He shakes people every now and then, but when you come down to it, he's one of the hardest runners we have. He lowers his shoulder and gets those extra yards."

While Prince says that K-State "... recruited Dold as a running back" out of Garden Plain High School, Dold says, "They first recruited me as a safety during my senior year, then changed it to 'athlete' because they weren't sure where they were going to put me, and then later it finally became running back."

Dold ranks second in Kansas prep history with his 7,144 all-time rushing yards. From those days, Dold said, "The speed of this game is just incredibly different. It's so much faster ... so much faster. Everyone on the field is fast."

Out of high school, he was ranked the 50th-best safety in the nation, and Scout.com had him as the ninth-best player in the state of Kansas. 3-4 THE BASE: While there was off-season chatter about going back to a 4-3 defense, K-State's base will again be the 3-4.

That means a front wall of Ian Campbell, Brandon Balkcom and Eric Childs, backed by Olu Hall and Antwon Moore at outside linebackers, while Reggie Walker and Ulla Pomele will man the inside spots.

Hall transferred a year ago from Virginia. He played briefly for the Cavaliers in 2005, sat out 2006 for academic issues, and missed 2007 due to the NCAA transfer rule. Pomele is a recent transfer from Santa Rosa Junior College.

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