Whether it’s for the football game or the basketball game, the buzz the Sunflower Showdown generates has rarely been lower.
Talk amongst KU fans has been centered around Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embid and Wayne Selden, and where to watch the games if you don’t have Time Warner cable. Talk in Manhattan is about where they’re headed for this years bowl game.
For all intents and purposes, football season in Lawrence ended on September 27th this year. That’s the ridiculously early date Bill Self and his basketball team logged practice number one.
The Jayhawks football team was 2-1 at that point, but it’s conference schedule tailspin would begin the following week with a 54-16 loss to Texas Tech, and it didn’t look like Charlie Weis would be able to pull them out of it in 2013.
The celebration last week after KU’s improbable 31-19 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers, was a celebration three years in the making. Digging out of the hole Turner Gill left, has proved to be far tougher than Charlie Weis imagined. Last year people laughed when Charlie Weis had his team practice how they would celebrate after a game winning field goal. I bet he didn’t think it would be another 15 months before they’d get to put that practice to good use because of a conference win.
Last week was progress. But it was progress that lingered only briefly. Because the Jayhawks didn’t use that victory to take another step forward. They went to Ames, Iowa and were clobbered by an absolutely dreadful Iowa State team, 34-0. The weather certainly played a role in the debacle, but Iowa State seemed just fine in the bone chilling cold. The Jayhawks were shut out by a Cyclone team that coming into the game was giving up 39 points a game. Just watching the game, the KU players looked like they would have rather been anywhere on earth other than Jack Trice Stadium. I’d quit too if i was on a three win team playing in sub-zero wind chills.
The opportunity was there to have all of the momentum heading into this years Sunflower Showdown.
As ludicrous as this sounds, I almost think KU overlooked Iowa State. How a program that has been as putrid as KU has been, could overlook anyone is beyond me. Getting shut out by Iowa State and giving up 34 points, was head scratching, even for the Jayhawks. It certainly didn’t appear that KU was prepared for any kind of fight from the Cyclones.
KU players revealed yesterday that they’ve had a countdown clock in their locker room, counting down to the Sunflower Showdown. Charlie Weis said last week that this was KU’s “bowl game.” It will certainly be a bowl game atmosphere, with half of the crowd wearing purple and half wearing red and blue.
The thing is, the Wildcats are playing for actual bowl position. Win and they likely end up in San Diego in the Holiday Bowl. Lose, and they will probably travel to Houston for the Texas Bowl.
K-State was playing good football heading into last weeks matchup with Oklahoma. But the Wildcat defense was unable to stop the Sooner running attack, ending K-State’s four game winning streak. The week before is was TCU that caused issues for the K-State defense, so it’s not as if the Wildcats enter the 111th Sunflower Showdown with loads of confidence.
This rivalry means so much to Snyder that I believe the 31-28 loss to KU in 2004 was a major factor that led to Bill Snyder announcing his retirement following the 2005 season. In turn, witnessing the Ron Prince coached Wildcats from the press box get manhandled by KU three straight years, 39-20, 30-24, and 52-21, led to him coming out of retirement.
Snyder believes in the “one game at a time” mantra, almost to the point of ridiculousness. The countdown clock in the K-State football offices, counts down to the next opponent. Regardless of if it’s North Dakota State, Louisiana-Lafayette or KU, it’s always the next opponent. It’s often coach speak, but he believes it more than any other coach. Snyder’ would never admit it, but he wants to win this game more than any other game on K-State’s schedule. His dominance of KU is well documented, winning 16 of his last 17 chances against the Jayhawks. Since 1993, his teams have outscored KU 691-185.
His distaste for KU goes so deep he once ran his No. 1 defense back on to the field late in a game that he led 64-0 in 2002. The Jayhawks were threatening to ruin the shutout and Snyder was not pleased. The defensive starters returned and they easily kept KU from scoring.
This game shouldn’t be close. K-State has the talent edge and a definitive edge in coaching. Vegas made the Wildcats an early 17.5 point favorite. The Wildcat margin of victory has only been less than that three times in the past 20 years.
But I actually believe this might be a tight contest for at least three quarters. And if it is, anything is possible. Weis will pull out all the stops, much like last season when he used a fake punt and a fake field goal on the same drive to grab the early momentum.
The K-State defense without the services of senior safety Ty Zimmerman isn’t very good. About the only thing KU does right is run the ball and that was a huge issue for the Wildcats last week. The problem KU has is on defense. K-State, when clicking offensively has been tough for anyone to stop. The two-headed quarterback attack has been largely effective for the past month, but one turnover by either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters can change that quickly. Waters is streaky. When he’s on, he’s deadly. Especially to Tyler Lockett. When he’s off, he’s a turnover machine.
If the Wildcat team that traveled to Texas Tech and crushed them 55-24 shows up in Lawrence, the Jayhawks have no chance. But if the K-State team that played against Texas or even North Dakota State shows up, the Jayhawks have a real shot.
The only question left is which version of the Sunflower Showdown will have the largest margin of victory? My vote is for men’s basketball where KU already has a win over top five team Duke on its resume, and K-State has a woeful seventh place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
What a rivalry.