Big 12 has chance for 2 more 1st-year coaches in bowl games
By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer
Chris Klieman gets an extra game in his first season at Kansas State, and that is significant for the Wildcats’ first-year coach even though it won’t be as long of a season as he got used to before he got to Manhattan.
Texas Tech’s Matt Wells and West Virginia’s Neal Brown need to win their last two games to become bowl-eligible in their debut seasons as Big 12 head coaches. The Red Raiders and Mountaineers are both 4-6.
“Our sense of urgency was good. I think it has been. We went to West Virginia (two weeks ago) knowing we had our back against the wall and we had to win that one, and we did. We needed to win last week,” said Wells, referring to a 33-31 home loss to TCU, when the Red Raiders had rallied from a 17-0 deficit in the first quarter and took the lead. “We absolutely need to win now. … We all know that.”
The Big 12 already has six bowl-eligible teams with two weeks left in the regular season, and could finish with up to nine. TCU (5-5, 3-4) needs to win one of its last two games.
There are seven bowl tie-ins for the league, and there is a potential eighth if the Big 12 champion gets into the College Football Playoff. But the conference likely will need some help for that to happen, even if its champion is No. 8 Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1, No. 9 CFP), which has been to the playoff three of the past four seasons.
Kansas State (6-4, 3-4) has lost its last two games by a combined seven points since a huge home upset of Oklahoma on Oct. 26 that was followed with a four-touchdown win over rival Kansas. The Wildcats now visit Texas Tech before their regular-season finale against Iowa State.
Another win or two will affect which bowl the Wildcats will play in, but they should go to a bowl no matter what happens.
It has been 10 years since the Big 12 didn’t send a bowl-eligible team to a postseason game. That was a 6-6 Kansas State team in 2009, when the Wildcats lost three of their last four games in coach Bill Snyder’s first season back on the sideline.
“It excites us because of what bowl eligibility means for us,” Klieman said. “Not only for your program and in recruiting and those things, but the development of having some extra practices throughout the month of December with all the young guys we have in the program.”
Before going 5-7 last year in Snyder’s final season, the Wildcats hadn’t missed a bowl since that 2009 season.
A 13th game in a bowl for K-State would still be two games fewer than Klieman experienced during the past eight seasons at North Dakota State. The Bison won seven FCS championships in that span, all 15-game seasons. Klieman was an assistant for three consecutive titles before serving as head coach the past five years, with four more championships. His full transition to Kansas State didn’t come until after a 15-0 season ended in early January.
West Virginia (4-6, 2-5) was sparked last week when Bowling Green transfer quarterback Jarret Doege made his first start in a win over Kansas State.
The plan is to redshirt Doege, so he could only play two more games and maintain his eligibility as a junior for next season. If West Virginia wins its last two games and gets in a bowl, that means there would be another game.
“Let’s worry about that when it happens,” Brown said this week. “I haven’t mentioned the word ‘bowl’ in this building until just now. It’s not something I really talk about. My message since that debacle in the first half at Missouri is just get better. That’s been our singular focus. I just want to improve as we go.”
After their home finale against Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers play the day after Thanksgiving at TCU, which visits Oklahoma on Saturday.
The Horned Frogs are coming off a 33-31 win at Texas Tech, after losing three of their previous four games — all by a touchdown or less, one in triple overtime. That was Texas Tech’s third conference loss by three points or less.
“Our season is on the line,” Texas Tech senior left tackle Terence Steele said. “The team knows that. That’s the sense of urgency around here.”
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