The Real Deal

30 Oct

On quizzes in my sports economics class, our teacher gives a bonus point to the student who comes closest to predicting the actual margin of victory for Kansas State’s next game. I always guess low because the Big 12 is good enough that every game makes me a little nervous. I don’t believe in taking wins for granted. Plus, I don’t want to jinx anything.

(For the record, I don’t think jinxes are real, but I am a strong believer in the effects becoming overconfident and losing focus, which tends to happen when you start contemplating how good the team is instead of just preparing for the next obstacle.)

Despite my outward caution, however, I have a good feeling about this team. The players do too.

While they stick faithfully to the “one game at a time” mantra, they know the greatness they are capable of. I saw an example of this on Monday, when my economics professor announced who had won the guess-the-margin-of-victory contest.

The student who received the extra point was a member of the football team. The Friday before the game, he had picked the Wildcats to defeat Texas Tech by 31 points. Kansas State, of course, routed the Red Raiders … by 32 points.

In the past week or so, I’ve read a huge article about Bill Snyder in USA Today, opened my latest issue of Sports Illustrated to see a story featuring the Wildcats as a legitimate national title contender, and watched national journalists visit Manhattan to interview Collin Klein, who is now viewed as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

Maybe it is time to stop being shy about how good Kansas State is. After all, even though rankings are essentially irrelevant, No. 2 in the BCS standings is hardly something to sneeze at.

The best part is that the Wildcats themselves are not worried about any of this. They buy into Snyder’s philosophy, which is that they can control how well they prepare and how well they execute. If they do that, they can win. Whether or not other teams win, whether the BCS committee looks on them favorably or snubs them in favor of a school with a bigger fan base, whether or not national pundits give the team its due … none of that matters. Snyder cannot control that. The players cannot control that. Therefore, those are non-factors.

In a world full of laptops and iPads and televisions and iPods and cell phones, we are used to being distracted. Disciplined is far from our default setting. Completely and totally zeroing in on a solitary task or idea often seems implausible.

Snyder teaches his players to focus. He instructs them in diligence. He trains them to block out distractions. The players have responded well, and with the results (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) their dedication has gotten them so far, it is hard to imagine they would deviate from their trajectory now. More than likely, the players will buckle down and become even more focused.

It certainly helps that the man with perhaps the biggest reason to get sidetracked is the one who is least likely to become so. Even being considered for the most prestigious award a college football player can earn, quarterback and team captain Collin Klein is not the least bit worried about anything but getting ready – and helping his teammates get ready – to win yet another football game.

Leadership like that, in addition to the best coach in the history of college football on the sidelines, has to make you feel good about Kansas State’s chances.

Surely it is too soon for fans to start making plans for Miami. Still, it is hard to ignore the possibility.

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