After finishing nonconference play at 4-0, KU opens the Big 12 Conference season with a Sunflower Showdown kickoff vs. K-State (3-1) in Manhattan at 11 a.m. Saturday on Fox Sports Net.
While every KU-KSU game is big, this game looms huge for the Jayhawks. A win over K-State would not only be KU’s first victory in Manhattan since 1989, it would also push the ‘Hawks one step forward to bowl eligibility, give the program some much-needed national respect, and yes, surely give Kansas its first Top-25 national ranking since 1995.
After KSU (No. 24 ) vaulted into the Top 25 by beating Texas in Austin last weekend, KU hopes to create its own magic and turn the same trick on the road against the Wildcats. If the Jayhawks can beat K-State, they will make a major statement: Kansas football is no longer a pretender, but now a contender for Big 12 and national glory.
Mark Mangino knows his team will have to play its best game of the season to beat K-State and stay undefeated.
“Kansas State is a team that is playing at a high level right now,” Mangino said. “Obviously, they played very well in all phases of the game against Texas. They scored on offense, scored on defense and scored on special teams. They have all three units really playing at a high level. ...They’re playing very well and we’re playing well. It’s going to be a great game for the state of Kansas.”
The game will be the 115th matchup between the two schools, the 13th longest rivalry in NCAA. KU has won two of the last three games, coming off a resounding 39-20 victory a year ago in Memorial Stadium. But make no mistake, this game will be much tougher in the unfriendly confines at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
“I know it will be a hostile environment because it is a huge rivalry,” said KU sophomore quarterback Todd Reesing. “They just came off a big win so they will have a packed house. We are not going to worry too much about playing in front of noise. If you let noise affect you it will, but if you don’t worry about it, it won’t be a problem.”
Reesing said KU is more motivated to play since K-State knocked off the Longhorns last Saturday. The ‘Hawks also feel they have something to prove after all the talk about their soft nonconference schedule.
“I think a lot of people are ready to see how good we really are,” Reesing said. “They want us to go out there and prove ourselves. That is what we want to do as a team. We are ready to go out there and prove that we have a good team and that we can compete with the best teams there are.”
For fifth-year senior tight end Derek Fine, this will be the biggest KU-K-State game he’s ever played.
“In the other three (games), neither team was ever ranked,” Fine said. “In 2004, it was big, but it was a little bit different because no one expected us to be even close in that game. (KU won, 31-28.) This is more of an even match-up, where both teams are going to have to come out and be ready to play.”
And KU is ready after its last win over Florida International two weeks ago. After getting some rest with the bye week, the ‘Hawks are reenergized and looking to make a defining statement for the Kansas football program.
KU vs K-State. State bragging rights, the Governor's Cup, and a Top-25 ranking at stake.
For the Jayhawks, their time is now. Senior running back Brandon McAnderson says bring it on.
“I feel like we are confident in each other and we have a swagger about ourselves. We are looking forward to the challenge.”