In the grand scheme of the Bowl Championship Series, there big difference is between No. 2 and No. 3 in the final standings. For the first 14 years, this year and next year, the top two teams in the final standings have the chance to play for the crystal football.
Hence, it shouldn't matter which team is No. 1 and which is No. 2. But as the Three Dog Night oldie reminds us, one is the loneliest number there could ever be. With Alabama's loss last week, Kansas State went from the relative obscurity of No. 2 to BEING RANKED NO. 1 IN THE ONLY RANKINGS THAT MATTER.
Yes, there's more noise when you're No. 1. More distractions. More interview requests. More attention. Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. That prompted a question for K-State coach Bill Snyder about the dreaded "Sports Illustrated cover jinx." Snyder said he had never heard of it.
That's one way to ignore the noise. But, as Snyder said this week, he knows his players stay connected with their "electronic devices" and they realize the talk this week centers on the top-ranked Wildcats and their game at Baylor (7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN). It's just Game No. 11 on the schedule but it's different when you're No. 1.
"It's about us, it's about what we're trying to do, and that overrides whatever is going on around the outside," Klein said.
That's the kind of focus and leadership a team in Kansas State's position needs. Snyder and his coaching staff can talk about ignoring the distractions but the players must listen for the message to be meaningful.
Former coach Bill Parcells liked to say he didn't want his team to "eat the cheese." Translation: When you're having success and winning, everyone will tell you how great you are. If you listen, you'll believe, you'll stop working, you'll lose. Don't eat the cheese.
Texas coach Mack Brown recalled he followed Parcells' advice. Before the Longhorns played Texas A&M to close out the 2005 regular season, they were nearing a spot in the BCS title game. Brown hung pieces of cheese in the UT lockers and explained the cheese parable. It worked ... sort of. Texas defeated A&M by 11 points and went on to win the national championship.
"Parents hear it and they talk. Media talks. Students talk," Brown said. "It's all out there. Older teams handle it better than younger teams."
Since the end of the 2003 season, Big 12 teams have been No. 1 in the BCS on eight occasions, including K-State this week. Those teams are just 2-5 in their next game.
"There's no guarantees for the future. That depends on how well we prepare," Snyder said. "I'm just going to encourage our guys to not change the way we approach things and try to stay grounded, which is not something that you all of a sudden just jump up and say. That's kind of the way we've been throughout our time here."
All times Central
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State
Need to know: 2:30 p.m., Boone Pickens Stadium, FSN.
Records: Texas Tech 7-3, 4-3; Oklahoma State 6-3, 4-2.
Scouting Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have struggled with Oklahoma State recently and were embarrassed last season by the 66-6 loss in Lubbock. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in total defense and passing offense. Quarterback Seth Doege has had an outstanding senior season. He leads the Big 12 with 34 touchdown passes and has thrown just nine interceptions.
Scouting Oklahoma State: Now that all three quarterbacks are healthy, coach Mike Gundy has to make a choice. Wes Lunt and Clint Chelf are listed on the depth chart with an "or" between their names. Chelf led Oklahoma State to a victory over West Virginia last week. The Cowboys' offense continues to produce. Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in scoring and is second in total offense.
This and that: Oklahoma State's three-game winning streak versus Tech is its longest in the series since winning four consecutive games from 1942-45. ... Texas Tech (minus-5) and Oklahoma State (minua-8) have the two worst turnover ratios in the Big 12. ... Texas Tech has allowed just 19 completions of 20 or more yards; Oklahoma State has 51 pass plays of 20 or more yards.
Oklahoma at West Virigina
Need to know: 6 p.m., Milan Puskar Stadium, FOX.
Records: Oklahoma 7-2, 5-1; West Virginia 5-4, 2-4.
Scouting Oklahoma: The Sooners still have hope of earning a share of the Big 12 regular-season title plus a possible BCS at-large bowl bid. In five Big 12 victories, Oklahoma has been dominant, outscoring its opponents 233-102. The defense has not allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for 300 yards while the offense has steadily improved its production.
Scouting West Virginia: The Mountaineers are desperate to end a four-game Big 12 losing streak that has sent their season off the tracks. The offense that looked so unstoppable has struggled. Quarterback Geno Smith averaged 432 passing yards a game in September. Since then, he's averaging just 262.6. The lack of offensive production has further exposed a defense that is allowing 51 points in Conference play.
This and that: With a victory, Oklahoma will have at least eight wins for the 13th consecutive season. ... Oklahoma's Blake Bell has 20 touchdowns on 29 rushes in goal-to-go situations since the beginning of last season. ...West Virginia wide receiver leads the Big 12 with 684 yards after the catch.
Iowa State at Kansas
Need to know: 6 p.m., Memorial Stadium, FSN.
Records: Iowa State 5-5, 2-5; Kansas 1-9, 0-7.
Scouting Iowa State: The Cyclones need one victory in their last two games to become bowl eligible. Iowa State's offense continues to search for points and big plays as quarterback Steele Jantz has struggled to be consistent in the passing game. With the task of keeping the score as low as possible, the defense is getting close to becoming worn down.
Scouting Kansas: The Jayhawks have established a consistent running game and are second in the Big 12 with 213 yards per game on the ground. Kansas, however, has been unable to get its passing game going and is last in the Big 12 in passing offense. KU has two games remaining to avoid back-to-back 0-9 seasons.
This and that: Iowa State safety Durrell Givens has five fumble recoveries and three interceptions. That ties him for the national lead in takeaways. ... Kansas offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson is expected to start at left tackle. If he does, he'll set a school record by starting his 47th game. ... This is KU's final home game and it's Senior Day. Coach Charlie Weis spent the week imploring fans to attend and support the senior Jayhawks.
Kansas State at Baylor
Need to know: 7 p.m. Floyd Casey Stadium, ESPN.
Records: Kansas State 10-0, 7-0; Baylor 4-5, 1-5.
Scouting Kansas State: The Wildcats lead the Big 12 in scoring defense but 12 of the 18 offensive touchdowns they've allowed have come through the air. With Kansas State ranked No. 1 and quarterback Collin Klein the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, this game will have the nation's attention. K-State, though, will try to treat it just as Game No. 11 on the schedule.
Scouting Baylor: The Bears need to win two of their last three to gain bowl eligibility. The offense tops the Big 12 in producing yards while the defense is at the bottom in allowing yards. In its four victories, Baylor has a plus-8 turnover margin; in five losses, Baylor's turnover margin is minus-9.
This and that: Kansas State leads the nation in average starting field position, at their own 41. K-State opponents average at their own 27. That plus-14 differential is 5 yards greater than any team in the country. ... Baylor senior Nick Florence has thrown 15 touchdown passes longer than 20 yards this season, more than any other quarterback in the FBS.