For the first time in 13 years, the Sunflower Showdown has meaning for more than one team. Kansas and No. 12 Kansas State have not squared off with both teams sporting winning records since 2009.
Both teams have reached bowl eligibility, with K-State able to secure a bid in the Big 12 Championship Game Dec. 3 with a victory. Kansas would like nothing better than to go into Manhattan, Kan., and derail their rival’s conference title hopes and take home the Governor’s Cup.
Kansas leads the overall series 66-48-5, but Kansas State has won the past 13 meetings. The Jayhawks last beat the Wildcats on Nov. 1, 2008.
K-State (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) also would clinch a spot in the championship game against TCU if Texas loses at Baylor on Friday. But if the Longhorns take care of business at home against Baylor, K-State would need to beat the Jayhawks on Saturday to secure the spot in the title game.
Kansas State was expected to be good, but the way they got to this point was not expected. Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, a transfer from Nebraska, was supposed to be leading the offense. But injuries have sidelined him early in two games and kept him out of two more.
Backup Will Howard has been steady if not spectacular in his stead. And running back Deuce Vaughn has been effective as well, giving K-State the kind of offensive balance that every coach dreams about.
With the arch-rival Jayhawks coming to town on Senior Night, head coach Chris Klieman has been careful not to make a bigger deal about the game than is necessary.
“I’m always careful about that, that this one is more important than last week, or next week or the previous two weeks,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve never been a big believer in âPut all your eggs in this basket,’ because if you don’t have success, what happens?
“We talk a lot about pressure vs. stress. Pressure is something you prepare for and practice for. Stress is throwing things on kids that don’t need to be thrown on. I’m confident that we have a good group of leaders who will block out some of the outside noise.”
Klieman said he sees one big difference in Kansas this season that wasn’t there in the past.
“I think the biggest thing is believing,” he said. “I don’t know their roster, but they’re playing hard and believing. They do have talented players, without question, but they’re playing inspired. Them getting to a bowl game is huge for the program. This is a potential cherry on top for them.”
Kansas (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) already has achieved more than anyone outside their program thought was possible. The over-under for KU wins this season was less than three, so reaching bowl eligibility was more than a dream.
Head coach Lance Leipold says that K-State is where his program wants to be.
“This hasn’t been a real, much of, a rivalry,” he said. “We didn’t make that a competitive game last year (35-10 KSU). That’s going to be the first and foremost that I’m focused on. Anything after that is what it is.”