Oklahoma game brings hype, intensity to Kansas State

Thursday, October 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas State linebacker Ben Leber is preoccupied about a test this week. Defensive tackle Mario Fatafehi claims he's sheltered from the media and hasn't paid much attention. And coach Bill Snyder compares this Saturday to any other on the Wildcats' schedule.

But whether or not the players and coaches will admit it, No. 2 Kansas State's clash with No. 8 Oklahoma isn't just another game for the Wildcats. The media and fan attention surrounding Kansas State's first real test of the season has Manhattan abuzz and is gaining national attention as ESPN's College Gameday prepares to play host to the show from KSU stadium.

``I am not totally oblivious to some of the things that are said and written, that makes it seem, perhaps, different,'' Snyder said. ``But my focus, and I have tried to keep everyone else's focus, is on the task at hand.''

Not only is it Kansas State's first game against a top 10 opponent since Nebraska last season, but it also features the much publicized matchup between Snyder and three former Kansas State coaches who left Manhattan to pursue careers at Oklahoma.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was Snyder's defensive coordinator from 1988-1995 and three assistants _ offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and linebacker coach Brent Venables _ left Kansas State following the 1998 season.

The coaching move angered fans and caused one Manhattan resident to label the coaches as traitors on a lawn sign.

``I think there are people in Manhattan that have some bad blood about the coaches,'' wide receiver Aaron Lockett said. ``I don't feel that way. But it will definitely be a sea of purple on Saturday.''

Add the Oklahoma hype to Kansas State's run for a national championship and the game matches the fervor surrounding Kansas State's victory over Nebraska in 1998 to break a thirty-year losing streak to the Cornhuskers.

``In 1998, we had very similar circumstances with the ESPN program being here, and just the hype, so to speak that presents itself,'' Snyder said.

Snyder said he and the players have to prepare as if the Wildcats were playing Ball State or North Texas.

``Coach Snyder's going to have us level headed even if we were playing the St. Louis Rams this Saturday,'' running back Chris Claybon said.

Claybon said the hype and the drama are irrelevant.

``It's going to come down to who plays the best football,'' he said. ``Period. All the hype and the whole thing with the coaches has nothing to do with it. It's a big game because it's the No. 2 team versus the No. 8 team.''

Linebacker Turrelle Williams laughed about the tension between the fans and the former Kansas State coaches.

``The fans are going to be hard on the coaching group,'' he said. ``It will be funny to hear some of the things they are going to say. You never know what's going to happen. They've been waiting for this for a long time.''