No. 7 Kansas State set to open vs. Cal

Updated: August 22, 2003, 5:10 PM ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As much as he'd like to, coach Bill Snyder cannot control every tiny facet of his Kansas State football program.

For example, not even Snyder can stop talk about the seventh-ranked Wildcats having national championship potential.

He just does what he can.

"If we're thinking about national championships and talking about national championships, I can assure you we're in serious trouble," said Snyder.

In even greater trouble, according to oddsmakers, is California, Kansas State's first opponent in what could be a 15-game season. The rebuilding Golden Bears were 27-point underdogs for Saturday night's Black Coaches Association Classic in Arrowhead Stadium.

"Kansas State is one of the top teams in the country. That's what we aspire to," said California coach Jeff Tedford, who lost 15 starters and 23 seniors from the team that finished 7-5 a year ago.

"It's great for our guys to see what it's like at the top and playing in hostile environments. I've always kept track of games, and I've been very impressed with what they've done."

Gone is one of the finest players in college football a year ago. Kansas State defensive back and kick returner Terence Newman was a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. But back to fuel an offense that averaged almost 45 points a game are senior quarterback Ell Roberson and junior running back Darren Sproles.

Together, Roberson and Sproles sparked a second-half surge that carried the Wildcats to an 11-2 record and an average of more than 50 points in their last five games. Roberson ran and passed for more than 1,000 yards each, and Sproles, who plays tougher than his 150-pound frame might suggest, set a school record with 1,465 yards rushing.

It figures to be a tall order for a Cal defense that will be giving a host of newcomers their first test.

"Some of our players may not be starters," Tedford said. "But they did see some time. K-State, on the other hand, has tremendous depth."

When Robertson and Sproles hit full stride in the final five games a year ago, the quick-hitting duo led Kansas State to victories over old foes Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri in which school records were set for lopsided margins.

"I'm totally prepared," said Roberson. "I've had the whole summer to work on my skills and get better. It's all about just applying them to the field now."

Even a perfectionist like Snyder can appreciate how far Roberson has come since his days as an undisciplined, talented freshman.

"I think Ell, in all facets of his game and his makeup and his presence on the field, has improved from the out-of-season program beginning in January," Snyder said. "I think he's just gotten better and better and better."

Roberson isn't sure Kansas State will have much advantage over Cal's new defense.

"We have a general idea what to expect, but you never know," he said. "They could come and bring anything. We've got to learn our skills and what we can do against every different thing they might present to us."

As for his team's national championship chances, Snyder is noncommittal. He does agree, however, that the future could be bright.

"I think we can be a good football team," he said. "We're not at all where we need to be ... to be a real good football team yet. Can we get there? I think we're capable of getting there."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index