Just four years ago, a nation chuckled as Kansas and Kansas State they finished a combined 1-19-2 that season played to a 17-17 tie in Manhattan.
Nobody's laughing as the Sunflower State football rivals prepare for Saturday's Big Eight opener in Manhattan. Each school posted a 3-1 non-conference record.
"I think the rivalry is back," said Brooks Barta, Kansas State's junior linebacker from Smith Center. "It's the kind of game people now want to watch."
Last year 45,000 paid to watch the Jayhawks edge the Wildcats, 27-24, at Memorial Stadium. Another 9,500 viewed from Campanile Hill.
"I NOTICED the crowd in pre-game and during the game," said Barta, a 6-0, 215-pounder. "There were a lot of K-State fans, too. I hope it's packed again this year."
KSU officials are expecting a crowd of 38,000 to 40,000. About 5,000 tickets remained as of Tuesday.
"I think it's one of the most exciting games I've played in," said Barta, who totaled 16 tackles versus KU last Oct. 27. "Being from Kansas, I'd prefer playing the game last with the winner going to the Orange Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, KU and K-State are No. 1 and 2 in the nation."
Barta picked KSU over KU and the Air Force. Nobody else recruited the former all-stater, who rushed for over 3,000 yards and also played defense for his dad Roger's high school powerhouse.
"I respect coach Mason," said Barta. "I just felt Kansas State was the right atmosphere for me."
BARTA SURMISES that most recruiters figured he was too small for major- college ball.
"I weighed 187 pounds my redshirt year," said Barta. "My freshman year I was 200. Now I'm 215. I spent all summer here lifting weights. A lot of guys stayed and dedicated themselves."
As a freshman, Barta was Big Eight defensive newcomer of the year. Last year, he was second-team all league after leading the Wildcats with 105 tackles in 10 games, including a season-high 18 versus Missouri.
This year, he has a team-leading 41 tackles.
Barta said his size can work to his advantage.
"I don't say a word the whole game," he smiled. "I hope players look at me and think I'm not worth a darn. Then maybe they won't block me."