The subject was scheduling, which is often the case in the
office of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. Give Snyder his props:
In nine years he has turned what had been one of the worst
Division I-A football programs in the country into one of the
best. His rebuilding job ranks with any in college football's
recent history--and that includes Gary Barnett's turnaround of
Northwestern. (Yes, Barnett has to contend with his school's
much higher academic standards, but Snyder must recruit talent
to the far-flung "Little Apple" of Manhattan, Kans., as opposed
to a leafy, lakeside Chicago suburb.)
However--big however--there is the matter of Kansas State's
schedule, which Snyder has fashioned to provide his team with
three automatic wins each year. The coach calls this
"stair-stepping" into the season, and it has worked fabulously.
Victories over Northern Illinois, Ohio and Bowling Green in the
first three games last year kick-started an 11-1 season that
climaxed with a 35-18 victory over Syracuse in the Fiesta Bowl
and a No. 8 final ranking. This year's schedule fits the same
mold: The Wildcats play their first two games against Indiana
State (Division I-AA) and Northern Illinois (0-11 last year),
interrupt this exhibition season of sorts to face downtrodden
Texas, and then play Northeast Louisiana (5-7). A 4-0 start is a
The problem is, Kansas State is no longer a dog in need of Alpo.
The Wildcats are an established program with genuine designs on
the national title. But with the new Bowl Championship Series'
reliance on strength of schedule and computer rankings in
addition to Top 25 polls, Kansas State's weak list of
out-of-conference opponents could keep it out of a national
championship game, even if the Wildcats are unbeaten.
The players are ready to step up. "One soft game is nice to ease
into the season," says junior All-Big 12 linebacker Mark
Simoneau. "After that it might be nice to play somebody tough."
Snyder, though, finds himself on the fence. "I like the way our
consistency has bred confidence," he says, "but we are at a
point where we would like to enhance our schedule a little bit."
That may prove to be a problem. With a capacity of 42,000, KSU
Stadium is puny by power-program standards, making for
relatively small payouts to visiting teams. An expansion will
push the seating to 49,000 for 1999, but beefing up Kansas
State's slate will be a very slow process. For now, Snyder
doesn't think his team's schedule is a fatal flaw. "If you put
me in a position to end up arguing with a computer after 11 or
12 games," he says, "I'll feel pretty good about our program."
He's got the personnel to set the debate in motion. Eighteen
starters return, including six fifth-year seniors, five seniors
who transferred from junior colleges and four fourth-year
juniors. It is the deepest and most experienced team Snyder has
The most vital player is cocky, quicksilver senior quarterback
Michael Bishop. After transferring from Blinn Community College
in Brenham, Texas, Bishop won the starting job last August and
immediately became the team leader. In the Fiesta Bowl he threw
for 317 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 73 yards. This
year he joins Syracuse's Donovan McNabb and Missouri's Corby
Jones as the best double-threat quarterbacks in the country.
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats boast a consistent
defense that was built in the early '90s by current Florida
defensive coordinator Bob Stoops and is now run by his brother
Mike. Last year it ranked fourth in the nation.
After five straight winning seasons, attitude adjustment is no
longer an issue in Manhattan. The players have no recollection
of the program as a doormat. They expect to win. "I heard they
used to be bad back in the [old] days," says Bishop, "but I
never saw it." Adds All-Big 12 senior linebacker Jeff Kelly,
"We're capable of beating everybody we play, and that's what I
expect us to do."
One opponent matters more than the others: Kansas State hasn't
beaten Nebraska since 1968. Last October the Huskers pounded the
Wildcats 56-26 in Lincoln, after which Bishop said publicly that
some of his teammates had quit when Nebraska took a 41-6 lead in
the third quarter. An incensed Snyder, who is as controlling as
any coach in Division I-A, muzzled his quarterback for four weeks.
It seems the truth hurts. During the summer Kelly said, "We came
into the game with the right attitude, but some guys gave up. As
we were coming off the field, Nebraska fans were so nice to us,
[saying], 'Good luck against everybody else,' like they knew we
couldn't give them a game. It was sickening."
Snyder, a born underdog who is now cast as a favorite of sorts,
squirms in the face of high expectations and talk of Nebraska in
August. "The important thing," he says, "is not to skip steps
along the way."
COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MUZIK Cat patrol Simoneau (42), an All-Big 12 selection last season, is part of one of the nation's best linebacking corps. [Mark Simoneau making tackle in game]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Bishop [Michael Bishop]
1997 record: 11-1 (7-1, 2nd in Big 12 North)
Final ranking: No. 8 AP, No. 7 coaches' poll
Rushing Passing Total
1997 Averages Scoring Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 34.8 220.2 152.2 372.4
DEFENSE 14.5 129.9 126.9 256.8
Coach: Bill Snyder
10th year at Kansas State (66-37-1); career Division I-A record:
WR Darnell McDonald Sr. 7 catches, 3 TDs in Fiesta Bowl
LT John Robertson[*] Fr. Dad played for Houston Oilers
LG Brien Hanley Sr. Former Xavier U. point guard
C Randall Cummins[*] So. Schoolboy shot put, discus star
RG Jeremy Martin Sr. 10 starts at RG, 2 at LG
RT Ryan Young Sr. Only married player on team
TE Justin Swift Sr. Tabbed "most improved" in '97
WR Everett Burnett Sr. No catches after sixth game
QB Michael Bishop Sr. 19.5 yds. per comp., led Div. I-A
RB Eric Hickson Sr. Ran for 750 yds., 8 TDs
FB Brian Goolsby Sr. 3.9 yds. per carry
K Martin Gramatica Sr. Nation's top placekicker in '97
LE Joe Bob Clements Sr. Former walk-on
LT Damion McIntosh Jr. Kingston, Jamaica, native
RT Andrae Rowe[*] Sr. 46 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks
RE Darren Howard Jr. Second-team All-Big 12
OLB Travis Ochs Sr. Defensive MVP in Fiesta Bowl
MLB Jeff Kelly Sr. Led defense with 110 tackles
OLB Mark Simoneau Jr. 214 tackles in first two years
CB Dyshod Carter So. Broke up 9 passes
SS Jarrod Cooper So. 79 tackles as freshman
FS Lamar Chapman Jr. Recovered 3 fumbles
CB Gerald Neasman[*] Sr. Also standout kick returner
P James Garcia Sr. 43.7 yds. per punt
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1997 season.
In the hands of Michael Bishop, who passed for 1,557 yards and
ran for 566 last year, Kansas State's conservative offense
becomes dangerous, although Bishop needs to better his 43.2
completion percentage.... Running back Eric Hickson, a rare
sixth-year senior who was granted a medical redshirt after
breaking his left leg in '96, needs 630 yards to become the
Wildcats' career rushing leader.... Hickson will often run
behind senior right tackle Ryan Young, who came to Manhattan as
a 360-pound doughboy barely able to bench 270 pounds and will
leave as a 330-pound likely first-round draft choice who racks
400-plus.... If all else fails on offense, it's nice to have the
best kicker in the nation, senior Martin Gramatica (19 of 20
field goal attempts in '97).... The big-play man on defense is
six-foot, 245-pound senior linebacker Jeff Kelly, who had seven
sacks and 24 tackles for losses in '97.... As with all press
defense teams, cover cornerbacks are vital; the Wildcats' best
is sophomore Dyshod Carter.
Schedule strength: 80th of 112
Oct. 10 at Colorado Last year's 37-20 win in Manhattan ended an
0-11-1 streak of futility against the Buffaloes, dating to 1985.
An improved Colorado will provide the first real test of '98.
Oct. 17 vs. Oklahoma State Kansas State missed the Cowboys in
their breakthrough 8-4 season in '97. This is the toughest home
game on the schedule until...
Nov. 14 vs. Nebraska The Wildcats weren't scared of the Huskers
during last year's 56-26 loss. "It just took longer for the
anxiety to go away," says Young. Like, 60 minutes.
The X Factor
Will tailback Frank Murphy, the '97 junior college player of the
year, be another JC-transfer gem? He ran an eye-popping 4.21 40
in drills but had just two yards on 13 carries in the spring game.
The Bottom Line
If all goes according to plan--and the schedule doesn't ruin
them in the computer ratings--it's a one-game season: Beat
Nebraska, and the Wildcats have a chance of playing for the