I'm guilty. I was one of the pundits to pick Kansas State toward the bottom of the Big 12 North.
Boy, was I wrong!
Bill Snyder's team is sitting in first place of the Big 12 North at 4-2 and 6-4 overall and this week moved up to No. 43 in the latest CBSSports.com 120 rankings.
K-State needs just one more victory to become bowl-eligible (The Wildcats played two FCS teams, so they must win seven games, instead of the usual six) and controls its own destiny to reach the Big 12 Championship game against Texas.
"At the beginning of the season, everyone expected us to not do so much, to have a losing season or whatever," cornerback Josh Moore said to The Manhattan Mercury, "but all the players on the team and the coaches have a lot of faith in what we're doing. We're number one in the North right now - you have to take us seriously."
After Bill Snyder retired in 2005, the Wildcats didn't have much success under former assistant Ron Prince. They made just one bowl game (Texas Bowl in 2006) and had two consecutive losing seasons. The school decided a change needed to be made and brought Snyder back.
Not much was expected heading into this season, in what was supposed to be a competitive Big 12, with one of the worst defensives in the nation. Kansas state gave up 36.8 points per game (110th in the nation) and was 117th in the nation overall. This year, the defense is 43rd in the nation overall and 45th in points allowed.
The biggest telling statistics is the Wildcats are plus-11 in turnover margin. Safties Emmanuel Lamur, who leads the team in tackles and recorded two INTs against Colorado, and Tysyn Hartman, who has four INTS, are the driving force behind the turnaround on defense.
We're playing at a very high level," Hartman said to The Kansas City Star a few weeks ago. "We don't make a lot of mistakes, and when we do we try to correct them as soon as possible. That's what leads to our performance."
Another nice surprise has been running back Daniel Thomas. After rushing for 185 yards in the victory over Kansas, he now has 1,087 yards on the season with 11 touchdowns.
Thomas was a star at Northwest Mississippi Community College before signing with Kansas State, but wasn't expected to contribute much with the return of three running backs.
"Here is a guy that did not know where Kansas was a few months ago and still does not know anything about Kansas, but he gives it everything he has got, and he played hard," said Snyder after the game. "Sometimes he plays like he is a linebacker, and I just appreciate his approach to the game. He is not an easy guy to get down, and that is for one reason and one reason alone. It does not have anything to do with speed or size or anything else, it is just tenacity and a desire to get that extra inch or foot."
Oregon ranking talk, Part II
Last week, we had the debate about which team should be ranked higher -- one-loss Oregon or an undefeated Boise State team? This week we have the Oregon/USC debate.
Both teams are 7-2, but Oregon destroyed USC two weeks ago 47-20. In all four polls (AP, Coaches, Harris and BCS), the Trojans are ranked ahead of the Ducks. Did the voters forget about the thrashing the Trojans took?
One poll that didn't follow the rest of the nation was the CBSSports.com 120, where Oregon is ranked No. 11, USC is No. 12 and Ohio State is No. 13. The Trojans beat the Buckeyes 18-15 earlier in the season.
... The highest-ranked team with a losing record is Washington at No. 71. Despite being only 3-6, the Huskies beat USC, Idaho and Arizona. It also barely lost to LSU, Notre Dame and UCLA.
... The lowest-ranked team with a winning record is Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 101. The Rajin' Cajuns are 5-4, but their strength of schedule is ranked No. 116 out of 120 teams. They did beat Kansas State, but the rest of their wins are against Southern (FCS team) and three Sun Belt schools with a combined record of 4-22.
... One of the biggest games between non-Top 25 teams is this weekend when No. 40 Fresno State (6-3, 5-1) takes on No. 53 Nevada (6-3, 5-0). Both teams still have a shot to win the WAC, especially Nevada, which hasn't faced the Broncos yet.