At this time last month, Kansas State was a long shot to play in anything better than a lower-tier bowl.
Today, the Wildcats are within reach of many postseason destinations.
K-State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) improved its bowl profile by finishing the regular season on a hot streak. It won four of its final five games and finished fourth in the Big 12 standings. That makes Bill Snyder’s team a candidate to play in the Camping World Bowl, Texas Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Cactus Bowl or Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“They have been on a good run these last few weeks,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports, which owns the Camping World Bowl. “Kansas State finished the season with two big wins, beating Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and they obviously had a very exciting game last weekend.”
So where will K-State end up?
That’s a question even bowl executives are struggling to answer at the moment. A lot depends on what happens in the Big 12 championship game. Oklahoma appears destined for a playoff berth, and TCU is a fringe candidate for a playoff-affiliated bowl. A TCU upset would likely send both teams to major bowls, giving every other Big 12 team a bump. But an Oklahoma victory could send TCU to the Alamo Bowl, leaving the Big 12 with more bowl-eligible teams (eight) than bowl tie-ins (seven).
A logjam in the Big 12 standings will also make things tricky when bowls make their selections on Sunday.
K-State finished in a four-way tie for fourth with Iowa State (7-5, 5-4), Texas (6-6, 5-4) and West Virginia (7-5, 5-4).
“It feels like one of those years where you could make an argument for any one of them at this point,” Hogan said. “They are all 7-5 or 6-6. They all beat each other and have some quality wins to point at. It is going to be one of those years where you really have to pick it apart and debate it, get a sense for what the fan base is excited about. You have to let all of those things weigh in.”
The Camping World Bowl, which ranks third in the Big 12 bowl order, will be played on Dec. 28 in Orlando against an ACC team or Notre Dame. Hogan said the bowl would prefer to have a matchup involving TCU or Oklahoma State against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame or North Carolina State.
But if the Big 12 sends two teams to major bowls, the Camping World Bowl would then consider K-State along with the Big 12’s other bowl-eligible teams.
K-State has never played a bowl game in Florida, which could make the Wildcats an appealing choice, but Hogan said creating the best possible matchup will take priority. The Camping World Bowl has a history of inviting two ranked teams.
If Orlando isn’t in the cards, the Texas Bowl would be a possibility.
The Wildcats would make sense for the Houston game, which will be played Dec. 27 against a SEC team, as they have the most momentum of the Big 12’s fourth-place teams. But they have also made two previous trips to the Texas Bowl, including last year when they defeated Texas A&M.
There might not be much enthusiasm for a repeat invite. But David Fletcher, executive director for the Texas Bowl, said the bowl has gone that route before.
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“Kansas State is definitely in the mix,” Fletcher said. “We certainly loved our experience with them last year. They have a great national brand. (A repeat invite) is a factor, but it is one of many factors. We have to look at a lot of different scenarios.”
The Liberty Bowl selects next.
This seems like a probable landing spot for K-State if the Wildcats remain available. Liberty Bowl associate executive director Harold Graeter was in Manhattan for the Iowa State game last weekend. When it was over, he attended Bill Snyder’s press conference and snapped a photo with actor/K-State fan Eric Stonestreet.
K-State was in the Liberty Bowl two years ago, suffering a blowout loss to Arkansas, but Iowa State (2012) and West Virginia (2014) have also played there recently. It’s worth noting Texas has never played in the Memphis game, which will kickoff at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 30 against a SEC opponent.
Graeter declined an interview request for this story.
There is also a chance K-State ends up in the Cactus Bowl, which will kickoff at 8 p.m. on Dec. 26 against a Pac-12 team in Phoenix.
“I am expecting and hoping that Kansas State will be available at the time of our selection,” said Mike Nealy, executive director for the Cactus and Fiesta bowls. “We would love to host Kansas State. They have been down here before. Their fans are awesome, and they really support their team.”
The Wildcats have made six trips to Arizona for postseason games, including the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2013. K-State defeated Michigan in that game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. The bowl has since moved to Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in downtown Phoenix.
Nealy expects the Pac-12 representative to be Oregon or UCLA.
If all four bowls pass on the Wildcats, the Heart of Dallas Bowl will be their likely destination. The game will be played at 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 26 against a Big Ten team at the Cotton Bowl.
K-State will know its postseason assignment by the end of the week. For now, it remains difficult to forecast which bowl that will be.
“There is still a lot of football to be played that can impact our universe,” Fletcher said. “We have a lot of options. Like many of our brethren, we are having a lot of discussions on how each scenario may play out.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett