LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Sunflower Showdown between Kansas State and Kansas hasn’t been much of a showdown over the past decade or so.
That’s because the Jayhawks have rarely shown up.
The Wildcats have not lost to their rival since the 2008 season, just before Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder returned for his second stint in charge. And nothing changed when Chris Klieman took over four years ago, adding four wins to make it 14 straight and by an average margin of more than four touchdowns per game.
Yet few think their matchup Saturday will be just another blowout.
While the No. 23 Wildcats (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) are tied for second in the conference and still in the hunt to defend their Big 12 title, the Jayhawks (7-3, 4-3) are among the teams one game back. And with identical overall records, the two teams are on remarkably even footing as they resume the fourth-oldest continuously played rivalry in the Bowl Subdivision.
“We’re just going to keep working on closing that gap and see where it turns out,” Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold said. “It was our responsibility to make this rivalry a better game and I think we’re taking those steps, but we have to go out and play that way.”
It won’t be easy if the Jayhawks are missing Jason Bean.
Bean was No. 2 on the depth chart to start the season, but he’s deftly guided Kansas most of the way while starter Jalon Daniels deals with a back injury. Then came last Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, when Bean sustained what Leipold called “a head injury” and walk-on freshman Cole Ballard played the rest of the way in a last-minute 16-13 loss.
Leipold expressed optimism Monday that Bean would be able to play, then backtracked the following day on a local radio show, saying that “Cole will be ready to go, and that’s probably the direction we’re going to have to plan on at this moment.”
Klieman doesn’t think the Jayhawks’ approach will change no matter who is under center.
“I know it was a smaller sample size,” Klieman said, “but I really didn’t think they changed a whole lot offensively when (Ballard) came in last week. It’s still what they do. They’re having a lot of success on offense with whomever played quarterback, so in my mind, those kids offensively believe in what they’re doing. Why would you change it?”
One thing the Jayhawks would like to change: Their losing streak in the series.
“We know how important the game is,” Klieman said. “All those things don’t have to be said, don’t have to be talked about. But it still comes down to you better not take any shortcuts, you better focus on your preparation and attack today.”