Kansas State outscored its first two opponents 114-16 and has 10 days to prepare for its biggest non-conference test and its first on the road with a prime-time kickoff against Louisville at Papa John's Stadium next Wednesday night. But although the Wildcats are the second-highest scoring team in the nation and harbor the nation's 14th-ranked unit in total defense, Coach Ron Prince during his Monday news conference still admitted, "I can't say I know exactly where we are as a team."
Prince hopes to gain a clearer picture, though, as the upstart Wildcats eagerly await their first measuring-stick contest of the season in a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2 and seek a rare non-conference win on the road.
"We'll find out a lot. I don't think we'll find out everything," said Prince, who is 14-13 in three seasons. "I don't think we should paint anything with permanent markers in this game but we'll found out more about our team. It's a great opportunity to show the country and to show ourselves against this kind of competition on the road.
"It's a great matchup for us with the kind of team it is and the aggressive nature of the coach and players. It'll be a great matchup for us and it'll do us a lot of good."
Prince will look to improve upon a 2-9 record away from Manhattan and capture the first non-conference road victory of his career as the Wildcats lost to Rutgers in the Texas Bowl in 2006 and dropped both non-conference road games last season at then-No. 14 Auburn (23-13) and at Fresno State (45-29).
K-State's last non-conference road win was 21-19 at Marshall in 2005 in the Wildcats' final season under Bill Snyder.
Louisville comes off a 51-10 win against Tennessee Tech after it suffered a 27-2 loss in its opener at home to in-state rival Kentucky.
Louisville finds itself out of the national rankings in both major polls and in its opener appeared to be different than the powerhouse eighth-ranked team K-State faced in 2006 when the Cardinals left Manhattan with a 24-6 win in Prince's fourth game with the Wildcats.
In the game, quarterback Hunter Cantwell started against K-State in place of injured Brian Brohm and completed 18 of 26 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Now a senior, the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Cantwell has completed 53.0 percent of his passes for 355 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in two games.
Second-year head coach Steve Kragthorpe is 7-7 after guiding Louisville to a 6-6 record last season.
"Some of the names have changed," Prince said, "but the styles in which some of these kids play and the attention to detail and pride they have in what they're doing is apparent."
Prince doesn't expect anything but a difficult contest.
"This is one of the reasons we picked this matchup long ago," he said. "When we signed this deal, this was basically as good of a team as you could find there with NFL players and high-caliber facilities and expectations. I'm not disappointed in all in what I see on tape. This is going to be a heck of a matchup for us."
Two-time first-team All-Big 12 defensive end Ian Campbell, who leads a unit that has allowed just 198.0 total yards and 8.0 points per game, said he knows better than to look too much into the scoreboard, especially the Cardinals' disappointing season opener.
"You can only take so much from scores," he said. "Every opponent might play differently from game one to game two. There's obviously a significant difference and guys progress and get better. It'd be faulty to take anything off of just one game."
So far, few quarterbacks in the nation have seen their passing efficiency take off like junior Josh Freeman, who ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency at 209.3 behind a 75.6-percent completion rate and five touchdowns and no interceptions. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder said he planned to remain focused and hinted that the high-powered offense that averaged 57.0 points in the first two games hasn't showed everything in its arsenal yet. But Freeman indicated the longer preparation week provided other benefits as well.
"It'll give me a chance to get caught up on things," he said. "I might get a chance to watch some other games."
Upon reviewing the Wildcats' 69-10 rout of Football Championship Subdivision member Montana State from over the weekend, Prince found various ways for his squad to step-up its game.
Prince said the special teams units "aren't where we could be and where we want to be, but we did have some terrific individual efforts and some units that performed really well, but we can do even better."
He said the defense "could tackle better and improve play at linebacker."
On offense, Prince pointed to a running attack that averages 171.0 yards and said he believed "we can improve running the ball in particular and in some points of our offensive line."
Prince indicated several players might return to action in time for Louisville. Junior college newcomer Edward Prince, who started at left tackle in place of injured Alesana Alesana against North Texas, wasn't on the sideline last weekend. Right tackle Penisini Liu hasn't participated due to injury. A pair of sophomore reserve defensive tackles in Gabriel Crews and Xzavier Stewart hasn't been on the sideline for any game.
"I anticipate having basically everybody," Prince said. "We'll see. We have a couple days here to see exactly how it's going to turn out, but I anticipate having almost everybody there."
Prince said coaches usually prefer more practice time. The strategist and tactician will get his wish, as the Wildcats will have a bye week after facing Louisville. The game is sandwiched between 19 open days on the schedule.
"It's pretty significant because we have (time) on both sides of the game," he said. "We have a chance to take a real honest look at where we are and address those things outside the pressures of the normal workweek to try and see some of the big-picture things you wanted to work on and some things that you haven't shown and want to develop. But also when the game is over we have the same amount of time to really assess where we are going forward. It's a very interesting schedule. It's not conventional to play on a Wednesday night but for us it fell pretty nicely and we hope we can take advantage of it."
Freeman, who completed just three of 10 passes for 18 yards in limited action as a true freshman backup against Louisville in 2006, was anxious to make the most of his time in what could be considered a personal redemption game of sorts on the national stage. Freeman's preparation began immediately after he spoke to reporters on Monday.
"This is just more time to game plan," he said. "We'll get the Louisville scouting report today and I've got to pick that up in a few minutes. We'll have a good chance to get a feel for Louisville and what they do and the kind of players they have. I know they're 1-1 and are hungry for a win.
"They came and got us a couple years ago, so we have to try to rectify the situation."