No easy assignment for bowl-bound Mountaineers
After four straight wins, West Virginia has gotten itself another bowl game . . . but finishes its season in a place where the home team has the unvarnished love of its fan base.
Kansas State, off in Manhattan, has the most revered coach of all the colleges playing in the big leagues of football.
Bill Snyder is 76 years old. Not only is he the white-haired face of Kansas State football his popularity is such that the place where the Wildcats play football is named Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Snyder came to Kansas State football back in 1989 when the program was mired in losing and its people had to bear the brunt of jokes about how bad the teams really were.
The scion stayed on through 2005 when he tried to retire. But when the indignant losing returned to Manhattan, Snyder came out of retirement in 2009 and the Wildcats have been in five straight bowl games.
When West Virginia takes the field for its last regular season game, very few in the stadium will care that the Mountaineers are 7-4 and have achieved bowl status again. There will be so much purple in the stands that the Mountaineers might wonder if anybody in Kansas has any other color in their wardrobes.
And not only has Snyder carved out a 192-100-1 record with the Wildcats, he has a 3-0 record against WVU since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 Conference.
Kansas State has won its last two games to bring its record to 5-6. West Virginia stands in its way of getting to a sixth consecutive bowl game.
Blocking punts has become a patented way of winning in Manhattan. Morgan Burns has been the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week for three straight weeks because of his punt blocking ability.
There is nothing flashy about Kansas State. Its quarterback, Joe Hubener, is the mundane version of Big 12 quarterbacks. He isn’t fast. He isn’t shifty. He isn’t a brilliant passer with a howitzer for an arm. Hubener runs more than he passes and when the Wildcats get close to an opponent’s goal line, he usually gets the points, having scored 13 touchdowns.
Kansas State wins with emotion . . . when it does win.
The stands will be teeming with people who attempt to will the team to wins. And the Wildcats badly need this game against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers will finish fifth in the Big 12 no matter whether they win or lose. Losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU have been balanced by wins over Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas and Iowa State.
The Big 12 has bowl affiliations with the Sugar, Citrus, Texas, Liberty, Cactus and Alamo people. If Oklahoma finishes in the Top 4 of the final ratings, it will go to either the Cotton or Orange bowls for the national championship semifinals.
Otherwise, the Sooners will take the plum of the bowls just listed.
It could be that West Virginia will be selected to play in the Liberty Bowl, the same as it was last season when it lost, 45-37, to Texas A&M of the Southeastern Conference. The Memphis-based bowl is to be played on Jan. 2 at 3:30 p.m.
In winning four straight times, WVU has ridden its defense and a running game featuring Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell and quarterback Skyler Howard.
Nick Kwiatkoski, Shaq Petteway, Dravon Askew-Henry, KJ Dillon, Jared Barber, Daryl Worley, Kyle Rose, Noble Nwachuku, Jarod Harper and Terrell Chestnut have been a group with little publicity and no real All-America types . . . but they have given the Mountaineers as many wins as the offense and special teams have accounted for this season.
Josh Lambert is a nice ace in the hole if a game is to be decided by a field goal.
Most of the emotional zestiness and sense of urgency will reside on Kansas State’s side of Snyder Stadium. But West Virginia can march into Manhattan and quiet the natives with its clock-consuming rushing attack — even though Coach Dana Holgorsen says his team does better when it hurries to its chores — and a nearly flaw-free defense and the points from Lambert.
Afterward, comes the avalanche of announcements from the 40 bowls to be staged this season.