When Kansas and Kansas State meet Saturday on the football field, make no mistake, it’ll be the Super Bowl for the host Wildcats. Though, K-State will have bigger things to play for following the game, under Bill Snyder, the Kansas game is the one that everyone in purple circles.
For years, Kansas fans have never truly embraced the hate that K-State has shared for them. Much of that is due to the fact that the Missouri game was by far and away the biggest for the Jayhawks and their fans. However with Missouri long gone, it would be wise for Kansas to put the same emphasis on the Sunflower Showdown as K-State has. Now, if you ask interim coach Clint Bowen, that’s no problem for a lifelong Jayhawk.
“(It’s) obviously is a big game for everyone in the state of Kansas, a rivalry game between KU and K-State that is always a fun one to be a part of,” Bowen said. “One hundred-eleven times this game has taken place when you look back, so obviously a lot of history between the two schools. I have tremendous respect for what coach Snyder and his staff have been able to do in Manhattan and with the way that program has success.”
“In the state of Kansas you're on one side or the other for the most part, and you grow up with that mentality,” Bowen said. “You grow up with your friends who are KU fans and you have the people in the room that aren't KU fans that are K-State fans. Throughout the years you take shots at each other and you develop those type of situations with the people you know that cheer for the other side. As people say, it's the bragging rights for it. But for our program it's a game to where in-state we kind of fight for all the same recruits, we all look for the same things, so it gives us a leg up in many different areas.”
In order to pull off the major upset, Kansas (3-8, 1-7) will have its hands full against a Wildcats team that rarely beats itself. Kansas State (8-2, 7-1) is always among the best in minimizing mistakes from turnovers to penalties.
On offense, they are brutally efficient and consistent led by quarterback Jake Waters, who has enjoyed a solid season. Receiver Tyler Lockett is the school’s all-time leading receiver and like those in his family that have played at K-State before him, is a big time play maker. Defensively, the Wildcats are physical, fundamentally sound and extremely well coached.
“It's a challenging offense to defend,” Bowen added. “The quarterback is one of those gamer type players and can throw the ball, can run the ball, has a knack for making plays, and then the wide receiver Lockett I think is one of the best in college football, a fun guy to watch when you're not playing against him. I really like the way that that kid plays, like the way he carries himself, like his skill set. We're all pretty fortunate to be able to see him play. And then on defense Tom Hayes (former Kansas defensive coordinator interim coach in 2001) has done a nice job with that defense of being able to keep the game in control. They don't give you a lot of big plays. They play sound, solid defense, so tremendous challenge this week as always in the Big 12, and we look forward to the rivalry game.”
The game is important to Kansas not just because of the obvious, but because of the domination that Wildcats have enjoyed over Kansas under Snyder. Throughout his tenure, K-State owns an 18-4 record over Kansas and 17-1 since 1993. With the exception of the glory days of the Ron Prince era at Kansas State, the Sunflower Showdown has been a one sided purple colored beatdown.
If Bowen can leave one lasting memory as he vies to attain his dream job by having the interim tag stripped off his title, then a win Saturday for go a long way. But, ask Bowen and he’ll tell you it’s not about him, it’s about Kansas and about a rivalry that means a lot to kids that like Bowen are Kansas born and bred.
“I think that Kansas kids are a little bit more in tune to the rivalry,” Bowen said. “They grew up hearing the same things that I hear, that your buddies are K-State fans and they've got their comments, so it builds in you a little bit more as a Kansas kid. I think if you're a Kansas player on either one of these rosters and you have to go home to a town where there's going to be people that you're going to see that have their opinions on which side they like, I think it definitely does mean a little bit more to a Kansas kid.”