It seems like nothing more than proximity has kept the Kansas -Kansas State rivalry dangling on life support the way it has in the last decade.
In football, it's 11 straight years of purple power, most of the K-State victories not even close.
"We have to prove on Saturday that the rivalry can be a good one," KU coach Mark Mangino said Monday during the Big 12 Conference teleconference. "We haven't held our end of the bargain in this rivalry for a long time."
Not since 1992, in fact, when the Glen Mason-led Jayhawks whipped K-State, 31-7, on their way to an Aloha Bowl berth. The next year was a 10-9 loss. The next, a 21-13 setback. The last nine have been on the ugly side, with the closest being a 26-point KSU win in 1996.
Mangino is striving to change that for the 6:20 p.m. Saturday meeting at Memorial Stadium.
He's on the right track, too. K-State still is a slight favorite in the early betting lines, but the Wildcats have stumbled to a 2-2 start, including losses to Fresno State and Texas A&M, and the look as vulnerable as they have in years.
KU, meanwhile, has lost three in a row to Northwestern, Texas Tech and Nebraska, but by a combined total of just 10 points. The defense has come alive, creating turnovers and forcing three-and-outs in abundance.
This week, the defense will be called primarily to stop one man.
"They have one of the best running backs in the nation in Darren Sproles," Mangino said. "We have to be able to play the run well and not let him hurt us."
Sproles is being hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate by Kansas State, but his numbers don't back it up yet. Though he did well against non-conference pushovers like Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky, Sproles combined for just 98 rushing yards against Fresno State and Texas A&M.
Against the Aggies on Saturday, Sproles rushed for just 61 yards and had two fumbles. It was his lowest rushing output against a Big 12 team since his freshman year.
"He made some mistakes," KSU coach Bill Snyder said. "He's a young guy that works extremely hard. He'll work extremely hard to get it corrected. He just had a bad day."
Mangino, a former K-State assistant under Snyder, said he was leery of the Wildcats despite their struggles. Eleven years of one-sided history is all the reasoning he really needs.
"They're going through growing pains with some kids, and that happens," Mangino said. "They sure aren't going to be taken lightly."
|Here's a look at Kansas State's 11-game winning streak over KU, with year and final score:|