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With dark days behind, K-State and Rutgers surge

Kansas State is located in Manhattan, Kan. Rutgers is in Piscataway, N.J., a short drive from that more famous Manhattan, depending on the traffic.

Aside from that the schools share little in common, except for this: They both at one point were college football wastelands, programs so bad it seemed futile to even keep them going.

The Scarlet Knights and Wildcats have both come a long way from their darkest days, but still it catches many fans off-guard to see them racking up huge wins, contending for championships and grabbing spots in the national rankings.

Kansas State (4-0) is coming off a huge win at Oklahoma and at No. 7 is the highest ranked Big 12 team in the AP Top 25.

"Everybody in the world wants to pat them on the back," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said Monday. "It's a harder time in this day and age to keep things in perspective."

Rutgers (4-0) stayed unbeaten by adding to Arkansas' misery and moved into the national rankings for the first since 2009 at No. 23.

"Now the challenge is to take the success we've had and to build on that," said coach Kyle Flood, in his first season as Greg Schiano's replacement.

Both Kansas State and Rutgers have a week off to enjoy their new lofty status before they get back into conference play. Both are worth watching the rest of the way.

Snyder already has a place reserved for him in the Hall of Fame as the architect of the Miracle in Manhattan. He turned the most inept program in major college football into a national power in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 72-year-old retired in 2005, returned after three years away and is up to his old tricks again.

Snyder's Wildcats have found success by being a tortoise in a conference full of hares.

While most of the Big 12 is spreading the field, upping the offensive tempo and striving to run 100 plays, the Wildcats take their time and pound away on offense with quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert. By limiting mistakes and controlling the clock with his offense, Snyder can mask some of the deficiencies of a defense that struggles in pass coverage — which is a huge problem in the Big 12 — but plays tough against the run.

Kansas State has a chance to pick up steam over the next couple weeks, with a home game against Kansas (1-3) followed by a potentially tricky trip to Iowa State (3-0) and what could be its next huge game at No. 9 West Virginia.

As for Rutgers, Schiano did a Snyder-like job rebuilding a program that was languishing at the bottom of Division I-A in the 1990s into one that has missed the postseason only once in the last five seasons. The 41-year-old Flood, Schiano's right-hand man, took over after his boss left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and inherited a team that was expected to contend for the Big East title.

"I think our program is at a different place now," Flood said.

Consecutive victories on the road against league rival South Florida and Arkansas have Rutgers set up to make a big run.

The Knights' defense is physical and fast and could be dominant against Big East offenses. And the offense with an improving young sophomore quarterback in Gary Nova and a group of imposing receivers was spectacular in Fayetteville, Ark., albeit against a ragged defense.

Rutgers' next five games line up like this: home against UConn, home against Syracuse, at Temple, home against Kent State and home against Army. It doesn't take much of a leap of faith to project the Scarlet Knights getting to 9-0, and bringing back memories of 2006 when they went 11-2 and stunningly slipped into the national championship conversation for about a week.

Can Rutgers and Kansas State stay undefeated heading into November? It won't take miracle.

HEISMAN WATCH

Always promising and generally productive, EJ Manuel's career might have seemed like a disappointment coming into his final season in Tallahassee. But that's only because so much was expected of him when then coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher recruited him to Florida State out of Virginia Beach.

Manuel whetted the appetites of Seminoles fans early in his career by helping Florida State win two bowl games while filling in for an injured Christian Ponder.

Manuel's sensational performance against Clemson (380 yards passing, 102 rushing) signaled that — if he can stay healthy — he will likely leave Florida State with one truly great season. He should be at or near the top of any list of Heisman Trophy contenders from now until the end of the season.

IOWA CROSSROADS

Since winning 11 games in 2009, including the Orange Bowl, Iowa's record has gotten worse each season.

The trend seems on its way to continuing with the Hawkeyes at 2-2 entering conference play Saturday against unbeaten Minnesota. The low point was last week's last-second loss at home to Central Michigan.

So where does that leave coach Kirk Ferentz in his 14th season with the Hawkeyes?

Ferentz's program has been steady and successful, and occasionally excellent, sharing the Big Ten title twice and getting to two BCS games. The 57-year-old Ferentz is 98-68 overall at Iowa, 57-47 in the Big Ten.

Iowa fans are frustrated, many are itching for change. But unless Ferentz decides to leave on his own, a contract that pays him $3.875 million this year and runs through 2020 means he's probably going to get the chance to right the ship beyond 2012.

QUICK HITS

— Fun with numbers. Texas Tech has the No. 1 total defense in the country at 160 yards allowed per game. The Red Raiders have played Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico. They start Big 12 play with Iowa State on Saturday.

— Good player, not so good team: Defensive end Travis Long of Washington State is tied for second in the nation with 6.5 sacks in four games.

— Army is 0-3 after a couple of tough, high-scoring losses to Northern Illinois and Wake Forest. If you long for the days when the Black Knights ruled college football, a new book titled "When Saturday Mattered Most" by Mark Beech of Sports Illustrated chronicles the 1958 season, the last great season under legendary coach Red Blaik.

"I'm going to have to get back in the coaches' poll, so I can get us down in the rankings." — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who prefers his team to stay out of the national spotlight.