Kansas State, No. 16 Rutgers to meet in Texas Bowl

Sunday, December 3rd 2006, 6:22 pm
By: News On 6

Kansas State's first postseason trip in three years will match the Wildcats against an opponent that came within a whisker of making the Bowl Championship Series.

Kansas State accepted a bid on Sunday to the Texas Bowl, where the Wildcats (7-5) will meet #16 Rutgers.

The game is set for December 28th in Houston.

The Scarlet Knights (10-2) could have earned the Big East's automatic BCS berth by beating West Virginia on Saturday, but fell 41-39 to the Mountaineers in triple overtime.

"They're a national caliber team, for sure," first-year Kansas State coach Ron Prince said. "But we've played a couple of those this year, and we're ready to go compete."

Rutgers' situation should be familiar to Kansas State fans who remember the Wildcats' 1998 season.

The Wildcats, for years the most miserable program in college football, were ranked #2 and on the verge of playing for a national championship in before they blew a 15-point 4th-quarter lead to Texas A&M and lost the Big 12 title game in double-overtime. They tumbled to the Alamo Bowl, where they looked, and acted, dispirited in a loss to unranked Purdue.

Rutgers, which played Princeton in the first college football game ever, also struggled for years before its resurgence under former Miami assistant Greg Schiano.

This year, the Scarlet Knights won their first nine games and were ranked as high as #7 before going 1-2 down the stretch.

Despite that disappointment, Schiano said, his team won't let down for the Texas Bowl.

"Certainly, there's disappointment," he said. "We had an opportunity to be in the BCS, and more importantly to be league champions. To come close and not get it hurts.

"But in 137 years of football, we've only been to two bowl games, so we're thrilled to be going to another bowl game -- and for the first time in our history, to be going to back-to-back bowl games."

The Texas Bowl picked last among bowls with Big 12 Conference ties, but Kansas State athletic director Tim Weiser said he wasn't disappointed -- especially since the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Big 12 North this year.

"It's difficult for us to think in anything but terms of excitement," Weiser said.

Kansas State won its only Big 12 title in 2003, but then went a combined 9-13 in its final two seasons under Bill Snyder. Prince's first team won three of its last four games, including a 45-42 upset of then- #4 Texas on November 11th, to finish 2nd in the North Division.

"Obviously, we're delighted to be back in the bowl business," Weiser said. "Having set out for couple of years, we've gained a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to get to a bowl, and to do it in Ron's first year is a great accomplishment."

The Wildcats' instate rivals, meanwhile, will be staying home. Kansas (6-6) was shut out of the postseason despite earning the six victories -- including a 39-20 victory over Kansas State on November 18th -- that the Jayhawks needed for bowl eligibility.

Kansas State has never played Rutgers before, but is 1-2 in three previous bowl matchups against Big East teams. The Wildcats beat Syracuse 35-18 in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl, lost 26-3 to the Orange in the 2001 Insight.com bowl and lost 12-7 to Boston College -- now in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- in the 1994 Aloha Bowl.