July 22, 2008

Time for kickoff nearing for Wildcats

When Kansas State coach Ron Prince and team co-captains Josh Freeman, Ian Campbell and Chris Carney arrive at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown in Missouri for the Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday, they will follow a precise schedule to the minute. They will stop at four different ballrooms -- one dedicated to radio, print, local TV stations, and national TV networks. And they will spend 170 total minutes answering the same questions. Meanwhile, time will continue to tick away in Manhattan.

Atop a purple face, a digital clock bearing red numerals welcomes visitors into the lobby at Vanier Football Complex. The clock counts down the days, hours, minutes, seconds and tenths-of-a-second. The words above the clock simply reads: Countdown to Kickoff.

While a K-State highlight reel interspersed with UFC fights and rock music splatters across an adjacent plasma TV and is certain to gain a visitor's attention, one addition to the wall, in particular, is enough to get the purple blood boiling with Nov. 1 still months away.

Below the countdown clock, written in the same signature font as K-State letterhead, exclaims a message in all white caps: "BEAT KU."

And below that is a small image of the Jayhawks mascot.

That's not all. Behind a receptionist's desk sits a curious display: A silver K-State helmet and blue Kansas helmet face one another in a glass case.

K-State, projected to finish fifth in the Big 12 North Division by a vote of the league's media, begins training camp Aug. 4 and opens its season against North Texas at 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 30 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But to further understand the significance of Nov. 1, when K-State travels to Kansas, all it takes is a glance at the vacancy in the Wildcats' trophy case: The Governor's Cup has resided in Lawrence the last two seasons.

To Prince, two questions were most prevalent at Catbacker alumni meetings during the summer: "How's the team going to be overall?" and "Are we going to beat KU?"

"How are we going to be?" Prince repeated. "I usually respond that I think we have a chance to be pretty good if we stay healthy, do things right, have discipline, take care of the ball and do a good job in the kicking game. If we do those things, I think we have a chance to be pretty good. Everybody understands we have to be better on defense.

"I consider both (questions about the overall season and about beating KU) positive because they're from people that care."

Prince comes off a 5-7 record in his second campaign, a step backward after finishing 7-6 with a bowl in 2006.

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