MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — No matter how good or bad Kansas State has performed in the weeks leading into its off weekends, coach Bill Snyder seems to always have the Wildcats ready to return when the opponent is Oklahoma.
The last two such times the Wildcats have been victorious.
Snyder wasn't willing to put too much stock into what he called "a nice statistic," but the reality is few coaches have such a strong track record of improvement after a week off. And given the positivity the Wildcats carried into it following a blowout victory over Oklahoma State, it stands to reason they should give the Sooners a tussle when they head to Norman on Saturday.
"It's a good statistic," Snyder said, "the trouble is the third time's the charm, so that might work in the wrong direction for us this year. I can't think back and tell you necessarily why that it played out that way in those two previous ballgames at Oklahoma under those circumstances. We weren't a bad team in either case. I thought we were a good football team. Obviously, we just played well."
That's something that had been lacking this season.
At least, until the Wildcats took on the Cowboys a couple weeks ago.
Suddenly a team that struggled to score against South Dakota was plowing its way toward touchdown after touchdown. Skylar Thompson finally looked as if he was the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback after failing to lock down the job in a battle with Alex Delton. And a defense that coughed up points by the dozen early this season shut down Justice Hill and the rest of the Oklahoma State offense.
Then there was Alex Barnes.
The bruising running back was considered an All-Big 12 front-runner given the yardage he piled up last season, and the fact that Kansas State returned its offensive line almost entirely intact. But he had been held in check the first five weeks of the season.
That's no longer the case.
He rumbled for a career-high 250 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-34 shootout loss at Baylor, then had 181 yards rushing and four scores against the Cowboys. Now, Barnes is back atop the Big 12 in rushing and ready to face an Oklahoma defense that has surrendered plenty of points this season.
"He's running the ball extremely physically," offensive lineman Adam Holtorf said. "He's running north-south, downhill and if there's a guy in his way, he's running over them instead of trying to go around them. I think the physicality that he's bringing right now is the biggest thing that stands out to me. Alex is a talented guy. A lot of us knew he was capable of doing stuff like this."
Just like a lot of people thought the Wildcats were capable of doing stuff like this.
They were picked just outside the Top 25 in most preseason polls, and some thought they'd give the Sooners a run for the Big 12 title. But those first few weeks of the season were rough, bottoming out with a lopsided loss at West Virginia that stamped the Mountaineers — not the Wildcats — as contenders.
But the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) have gotten off to slow starts plenty of times, and yet another hallmark of Snyder is that he manages to maximize the talent he has available over the course of a season.
The week off tends to play a big part in that.
"We don't back off," Snyder said of his approach. "When we can, we'd like to have them on the practice field. If they can't do some element of practice, we have them walk through, go through the mental processes that everyone would have to do. So at least they've been able to process the information at the pace that they would in the ballgame. As far as changing what we do, no we don't."
Instead the changes have occurred throughout the season, in the week-to-week approach the Wildcats have taken to game preparation. And after half a season of those changes, they are finally starting to look like the team many expected when the season began.
"I think we got a lot of momentum. We needed that win last week," defensive tackle Trey Dishon said. "I think everyone was pretty excited headed into the bye week and headed forward."
More AP college football: www.apnews.com/tag/collegefootball and www.twitter.com/AP_Top25