MANHATTAN, Kan. – Oklahoma has been a statement game for every team in the Big 12 for decades, and that should be no different for Kansas State, which is trying to rebuild under new coach Chris Klieman.
Only he doesn't view it that way.
"I learned a long time ago, be careful about overemphasizing one team than another," Klieman said ahead of their Saturday showdown, "because if you do that – 'Man, this is our Super Bowl. We have to get it done' – then what do you do the next week? What do you do the following week? It's no different than if we were playing Nicholls State. That's the next game on the schedule."
With all due respect to the Colonels, they don't have Heisman Trophy contender Jalen Hurts running around at quarterback. Or star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb catching everything thrown his way. Or a defense featuring potential first-round picks Neville Gallimore and Kenneth Murray.
Care to reconsider that opinion, coach?
"You pick your poison a little bit," Klieman acknowledged. "We have to at least be able to slow down some of the run game, but which run game are you going to slow down? Are you going to slow down the quarterback run? Are you going to slow down the running backs? Are you going to slow down the running backs, the jet action, all that stuff? That's the scary part."
In fact, the Sooners (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) have been so dynamic offensively – averaging more than 600 yards – that Hurts alone is averaging more total offense (397 yards) than the Wildcats as a team (369).
The transfer from Alabama doesn't think the Sooners have hit their ceiling, either.
"I think we're continuing to take steps every day at practice, and I think we have to be eager about every opportunity we have," Hurts said, "whether it be a walkthrough, a meeting, whatever it is. We have to be eager to attack it with the right intent."
Oklahoma knows a stumble against the Wildcats (4-2, 1-2), would likely doom its College Football Playoff hopes. So just as Klieman doesn't view the Sooners as any more important than Nicholls State, the Sooners likewise view Kansas State as just another opponent on their way to bigger things.
"It's a long season," Hurts said. "I think the different things we experience as a team, maybe overcome, just all the culture we have – it's all about us doing the things we want to do."
STILL A STATEMENT: Regardless of what Klieman said, many of the Wildcats still know that beating Oklahoma would be a tremendous moment for their program. Among them is quarterback Skylar Thompson.
"We know we are going to have the whole college football world watching us," said Thompson, a Fort Osage High School graduate. "It will be a good opportunity to show what we are capable of against a very good team. It has our whole team excited. We don't really have anything to lose going into this game, so that takes some weight off of our shoulders in a way, but also knowing that we are going to have to perform at a very high level."
TURNOVER TROUBLE: One thing Oklahoma hasn't done well this season is force turnovers. Its defense has been solid but it has failed to pick off a pass or recover a fumble in each of the past three games.
"Obviously it's a huge disappointment," Murray said. "For us, that just adds fuel to the fire to get it done. When we don't meet our standards, big thing about us is no excuses."
FEELING DEFENSIVE: Yes, the Sooners have the best offense in major college football. But the Wildcats have the No. 1 defense in the Big 12, and defensive end Wyatt Hubert said they're just scratching their potential.
"We are not satisfied at all," he said. "It's OK to be sitting 4-2, but there's a lot of things to improve on defense, like tackling is the main concern right now. Definitely something to work on."
PRAISE FOR HURTS: What makes the numbers Hurts has put up this season even more impressive is that he's done it while having one summer to learn coach Lincoln Riley's offensive system.
"Seeing what he's been able to do running that offense – and it's a phenomenal offense as it is – but he's running it at a really high level," Klieman said. "Obviously, that's the biggest challenge is he can beat you in so many different ways."
KNOWLES A GO? Wide receiver Malik Knowles hopes to play more for Kansas State this week. He's been limited to a combined three quarters the past two games because of a lower-body injury sustained in the Wildcats' win over Mississippi State. His ability to stretch the field is crucial for the Wildcats.