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Stars aligning for Kansas State football

3-9-07 Staff mug shot Herb Gould. phoby Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

3-9-07 Staff mug shot of Herb Gould. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

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Say this for the Mountaineers: The new kids on the wide-ranging Big 12 block haven’t taken long to start rivalries.

‘‘I usually don’t say anything bad about opponents,’’ Texas Tech safety Cody Davis wrote on his blog, ‘‘but [West Virginia] was by far the most cocky and arrogant team I have ever faced. From Eugene Smith not shaking hands at the coin toss and waving us off to Tavon Austin doing his strut after every single catch he made, they were all about Me, Myself, and I.’’

That was at the game last Saturday, when Texas Tech humbled the No. 5 Mountaineers and Heisman Trophy front-runner Geno Smith 49-14, knocking them out of the national-championship hunt and calling all kinds of things into question.

West Virginia doesn’t have to wait long for a chance to bounce back. No. 4 Kansas State comes to Morgantown on Saturday.

The Wildcats, who already made a big statement by beating Oklahoma 24-19 on the road last month, carry the banner as the Big 12’s last national-championship contender. If K-State handles West Virginia, it will have cleared its two toughest hurdles to an unbeaten season.

And the new 10-team Big 12
no longer has a conference championship game to muddy the postseason waters.

That means an unbeaten Wildcats team would have a legitimate chance to be one of the most surprising entries the BCS Championship Game has seen. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida are on a collision course, which will leave the SEC with only one unbeaten. No. 3 Oregon still has three ranked opponents left, two of them on the road.

While No. 5 Notre Dame, which is unbeaten and has strength of schedule on its side, is lurking, ‘‘There is no situation in which a one-loss team would finish ahead of [Kansas State],’’ BCS analyst Jerry Palm said.

You won’t hear any of that talk coming from official sources in Manhattan, Kan., where ageless legend Bill Snyder has come out of retirement to outwork everyone in the Wildcats’ path.

Asked about the 157 points (52.3 per game) the Mountaineers have given up in their three Big 12 games, Snyder didn’t provide any bulletin-board material.

‘‘I know their numbers have not been as good on defense,’’ Snyder said, ‘‘but they have been able to outscore people. They have been able to play well on defense when they have to.’’

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is saying and doing what he can to rally a team that has gone from national-title contender to defensive disaster in one trip to western Texas.

‘‘It’s not the scheme,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s the way they are playing. The problems on defense were the same on the offensive side. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. Our effort was spotty. We were way too hesitant, and when the situation got the best of us, we lost our technique and we lost confidence.’’

The Mountaineers will need to regroup quickly. While Smith is the precarious Heisman front-runner, Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein is in the discussion. If Klein makes a move in Morgantown, that Heisman picture might change.

‘‘We are definitely going to be ready,’’ K-State receiver Chris Harper said. ‘‘If they score a little bit, we can score, too. We’ve shown that.’’

The question is, what’s West Virginia going to show?

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