The Wildcats upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7 in Saturday night's Big 12 championship game to earn their position in the Bowl Championship Series against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2. It was K-State's seventh win in a row and improved the Wildcats' record to 11-3.
"Kansas State was a team that was thought to vie for the national championship before the season," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They had some injuries and a down period during the middle of the season, but have come together well at the end of the season and clearly proved to be the best team in the Big 12 at the end of the year. They were not shaken when they trailed by seven at the beginning of the Big 12 championship game. They recovered and truly took control of that game. They played well on defense. Offensively, they had three plays of 30 or 40 yards or more.
"Kansas State is good and they're hot. That's why we have to go to work and prepare. If you play in a BCS game, you play against one of the best eight teams in the country. Kansas State is as good a team as anyone in the country. Now that we know who we are playing, we will start getting ready for Kansas State."
Kansas State opened the year 4-0 before dropping three straight games. K-State lost at home to Marshall 27-20 then went on the road and fell to Texas 24-20 and Oklahoma State 38-34. The losing skid coincided with a period where quarterback Ell Roberson was hobbled with some injuries.
But K-State got down to business in the second half of the season, rolling up lopsided wins over Colorado, Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State and Nebraska (38-9 at Lincoln) before concluding the regular season with a 24-14 win over Missouri.
That set the stage for the Big 12 championship game, where K-State rallied from that early deficit to smother the Sooners. The Wildcats rolled up 519 yards on Oklahoma's defense, which was ranked No. 1 nationally coming into the game.
Tailback Darren Sproles, who led the nation with 1,948 yards this season, was a big weapon in that game. He carried 22 times for 235 yards and also caught three passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Roberson also came up big, completing 10 of 17 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 62 yards.
Kansas State is also strong on the defensive side, where it ranks fifth nationally in total defense (279.2), fourth in scoring defense (14.9 points per game) and eighth against the pass (173.6).
"Obviously, they can run, pass, run the option , the quarterback can run and they have great receivers," Tressel said. "Defensively, Oklahoma averages 40 points a game and they held them to seven. That's a pretty unprofessional scouting report, but we'll know more soon."
Several OSU players admitted they were impressed with what they saw of the Wildcats.
"Kansas State is a very good team," said defensive end Will Smith. "They have a solid offense, which features a good running back and dangerous quarterback. They also feature a good defense which stopped a great Oklahoma team in the Big 12 Championship game.
"I wasn't that surprised they beat Oklahoma. In college football, anything can happen. They played them tough. I turned the game over when it was 21-7. They were just kicking their butt defensively and offensively they were moving the ball. Oklahoma just had a bad day. Oklahoma's defense was rated No. 1 overall in the nation, and they dominated their defense. We know we have a big challenge in stopping those two guys."
Obviously, with Sproles, K-State emphasizes the run. The Wildcats are sixth nationally in rushing yards per game at 238.9.
"They are very solid up front," said defensive tackle Tim Anderson. "They proved they could compete against a top team by beating Oklahoma. There quarterback can beat you many different ways and their running back is fast and strong. They will be a great team to play against.
"We are going to have to shut down their running game and force their quarterback to make bad decisions by getting pressure on him."
Likewise, the OSU offense, which came out of its shell a little bit down the stretch, will need to play one of its best games in Tempe.
"Kansas State is a great team," quarterback Craig Krenzel said. "To be the best, you have to beat the best and Kansas State didn't just beat Oklahoma, they handled them. It is going to be a great challenge.
"We are definitely excited. There is no better bowl experience. We are looking forward to the same thing this year. We watched Kansas State beat Oklahoma and there is no debate they are a good football team. It will be a good challenge for us. We have to prepare for another big football game."
Split end Michael Jenkins added, "After hearing everything over the last two weeks, it was kind of a surprise. I expected a rematch with us and Miami. But we are fortunate to go back to Tempe and play a very good Kansas State team. They struggled a little bit earlier in the year, but they're winning games now when it's most important. It will be a good challenge for us."
With autumn quarter exams ending today, the Buckeyes are free to begin bowl preparation in earnest. They will practice in Columbus through next Friday. They will then take a week off before flying to Arizona Dec. 26.
"We've been practicing a little bit, but it hasn't been that intense," Smith said. "Now that we know who we're playing and we know we have to focus on, it's going to get intense. We just have to get a feel for what kind of offense they run. We've got a month to learn them inside and out. We know they're a good team that just beat Oklahoma. I'm excited and I'm ready to go."