• WILDCATS TO BATTLE TRADITIONAL POWER — It’s not the Fiesta Bowl of 11 months ago or even the Cotton Bowl from the season before.
But given Kansas State’s start to the football season, Saturday’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is an acceptable destination.
The Wildcats opened their season with a shocking home loss to North Dakota State, which set off a chain of four losses in their first six games.
But Kansas State coach Bill Snyder never quit on his team and it didn’t quit on him. The Wildcats reeled off four straight wins before losing to Oklahoma, then toppled Sunflower State rival Kansas to finish the season 7-5.
That earned the Wildcats a spot opposite of traditional power Michigan for their bowl game. Michigan is one of the elite blue-blood programs of college football, but this had to be considered a down year for the Wolverines since they also were 7-5. However, they were impressive in their regular-season finale, taking then-unbeaten Ohio State down to the wire before losing by a point when they failed on a 2-point conversion at the end.
I’m sure Snyder has looked forward to having nearly a month of extra practices. He looks at this game two ways, the task at hand and getting his team ready for next year. And you can’t argue about playing a game in Tempe, where the weather certainly is nicer than it is here.
Michigan will be without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, who is suffering from a foot injury. So much of what the Wolverines do revolves around him. What I thought would be a narrow victory for the Wildcats may have just gotten easier.
The pick — Kansas State 35, Michigan 24.
• SWEDES ON FIRE — The KCAC men's basketball race is wide open at the holiday break, with streaking Bethany College tied with Friends for the top spot, while Saint Mary and Sterling are just a game back.
The Falcons were expected to be there as they were picked to win the title by both the coaches and media during the preseason. They are led by Joe Mitchell, the No. 1 scorer in NAIA, not to mention a bevy of other experienced players, including probable first-team KCAC pick Colton Rausch.
The Swedes, however, were picked to finish in the middle of the pack. A lot of that, however, was based on last year. It was known that Bethany coach Clair Oleen had raided the junior college ranks for some new talent, but the quality of that talent was an unknown.
It's not now. The Swedes, who are riding an eight-game winning streak, are without question considered one of the teams to beat and may have the most individual talent. Going basically all-in on jucos is sometimes considered risky business, but Oleen’s made it work. All but two of the Swedes' top players are transfers and the team only expects to get better the more it plays together.
The Swedes, like Friends, have a Player of the Year candidate in Idris IbnIdris, who averages better than 26 points a game and like Mitchell, probably could be and should be playing at a higher level. But newcomers Kirby Hawkins, Jamelle Hays and Nathan Coleman have been outstanding as well. Hawkins is amazing, averaging more than 20 points coming off the bench.
It's been far too long since the Swedes were a player on the national scene. Of course in 2003, they made it to the NAIA national championship game with a team that quite honestly isn't as athletically gifted as this year's team. If Oleen can develop the chemistry that the 2003 team had, Bethany could make a run at nationals similar to the back-to-back runs McPherson College made in 2011 and 2012 when they made the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively.
• SHOCKERS IN TOP 10 — For the first time since 2006, the Wichita State Shockers are ranked in the Top 10 as they checked in this week at No. 8 by the coaches, No. 10 by the media.
Yes, higher than Kansas. Higher than Kansas State.
This is the Shockers’ state right now, while Kansas and Kansas State are just living in it.
Wichita State’s success is going to reflame talk of games involving Kansas and Wichita State as well as Kansas State and Wichita State.
KU coach Bill Self has been on the record numerous times saying he doesn’t want to schedule the Shockers. He believes it’s an everything-to-lose and nothing-to-gain proposition. Apparently a loss to the Shockers would cause damage to his program and enhance Wichita State’s.
There was a time when Kansas State and Wichita State did play, but they haven’t for more than a decade. I would imagine Kansas State probably wants to keep it that way now that Wichita State is on the rise.
In the grand scheme of perception, my guess is that the average state of Kansas basketball fan still looks at it as KU No. 1, KSU No. 2 and Wichita State No. 3. But if the Shockers make another deep run in the postseason like last year, the perception could change.