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December 20, 2011While the fall semester at Kansas State ended last week, the parking lot at the Vanier Football Complex remained full on Tuesday as the Wildcats have more work to complete and the countdown continues toward the meeting between the eight-ranked Wildcats and No. 6 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 6.
The battle between the two teams with identical 10-2 records in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will mark one of three bowl matchups this season, in addition to the BCS National Championship, that will pit two Top 10 teams against each other.
For K-State, it's one final test for the greatest underdog team in college football this season to prove itself, this time against a SEC power that only suffered losses to Alabama and LSU, the two teams that will compete for the national title.
"It's a tremendous challenge, quite obviously, with the No. 6 team in the country and a very excellent football team," Big 12 Coach of the Year Bill Snyder said during a Tuesday news conference. "If (proving oneself) is what one would want to do that'd certainly be a great format to do it."
Snyder continues to seek improvement in practice this week.
He said that K-State staged four partial workouts during final-exam week, including a practice on Saturday. After taking Sunday off, the team practiced on Monday and will practice again Thursday morning before taking off five days for Christmas. When the Wildcats reconvene next Wednesday, they'll get in three more practices before departing for Dallas on New Years Eve.
Asked how the team performed in Monday's practice, Snyder replied, "Not like I'd like. I don't know why they'd be rusty. We practiced four days last week. (Players were) not quite into it as I would like."
Some might argue that it becomes difficult to maintain focus and a routine with a break in the middle of the practice schedule.
To that notion, Snyder quipped, "If you're not interested in winning it's probably pretty easy to relax. If you want to improve yourself and you want to do well then I'd think you'd be into it pretty heavily. When you get on the practice field that's the only thing you've got going. You can't do anything else. We go through this time to time, just getting everybody on the same page."
Recent history suggests that the Wildcats, who have reached the program's most victories in eight seasons, have come together famously at game time this fall.
But the extra practices become important for other reasons as well, primarily for the development of younger, less-experienced players. This time last year, as the Wildcats prepared for their first bowl game in four seasons in the Pinstripe Bowl, teammates lauded the performance of a transfer linebacker named Arthur Brown and a young freshman center named B.J. Finney.
Of course, Brown earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year during his junior season while Finney as a redshirt freshman emerged as one of the leaders to the Wildcats' offense this season.
"We set aside quite a bit of time to work with younger guys," Snyder said. "Some segments of most of our practices up to this point in time have been dedicated to just that."
This time, K-State players were unavailable to comment on fellow teammates that have emerged during the added practice time, but Snyder, while fearful of omitting names, identified several players that have caught his eye to this point in time.
"We look at young guys on offense and a number of offensive line guys -- Boston Stiverson, Cody Whitehair, Drew Liddle," Snyder said. "I hate to do this because I leave somebody off. We've got a couple of tight ends in Zach Trujillo and Zach Nemechek. We've got a couple running backs that I really like in DeMarcus Robinson and Robert Rose. They've done well. The other younger wide receivers have played and have been out there and you're well aware of them.
"Daniel Sams is potentially a very talented quarterback.
"Defensively, Laton Dowling has certainly shown some capabilities for us up front. In the back end Kip Daily has a chance to be a good player. Dorrian Roberts has a chance to do well in the back end. There's quite a few."
Snyder indicated two younger players that earned significant playing time this season -- true freshman All-American kickoff returner and wide receiver Tyler Lockett and freshman wide receiver Curry Sexton would "in all likelihood" not participate in the bowl game.
Meanwhile, the status of one full-time starter from a year ago, senior left tackle Manase Foketi, remains pending for an additional year. Snyder indicated that "we think we will" receive a medical hardship for Foketi, adding, "We can't file (the paperwork) until the end of the season."
For now, bowl preparation remains the primary focus. And it remains a continual process.
Asked if facing an SEC opponent remained the sole motivation for the Wildcats, Snyder replied, "I'd hate to think that."
"I'm different than most," he continued. "I just want them to get better. Thy really see an opportunity to win as many games as any (K-State) team in the history of college football has won in a single season. That would certainly be special to them. Just the idea that you're going to be remembered by how that last ballgame comes out and you have a long time in between that one and the next one for these guys returning. Seniors want to go out on a very positive note. There are a lot of things."
And there's apparently a lot left to accomplish before the Wildcats conclude one of the more memorable seasons in the program's history.
It's evident in the parking lot, which remains full each day in an otherwise quiet town.