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Hodge-podge group of players propels No. 4 K-State

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Hodge-podge group of players propels No. 4 K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) The star quarterback used to be a wide receiver, and the top wide receiver used to be a quarterback.

There are junior college players from the most out-of-the-way places imaginable, and Division I transfers getting a fresh start. Small-town high school stars from the Heartland, and a motley collection of talent overlooked by most of college football's marquee programs.

This is No. 4 Kansas State, arguably the most diverse team in the country.

One of the best, too.

Listening to quarterback Collin Klein describe the hodge-podge that makes up the only unbeaten team in the Big 12, it's as if the Heisman Trophy candidate is likening sagely coach Bill Snyder to the Statue of Liberty - ``Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,'' as the Emma Lazarus poem goes, only this time it's the overlooked and the underappreciated.

``We do come from pretty diverse parts of the country, diverse backgrounds, different roads that have brought us here,'' Klein said. ``I mean, it goes back to his formula of taking whoever is here and bringing us in and molding us together and creating a true team to where it doesn't matter where you came from, how you got here, anything like that. What matters is now.''

Right now, the Wildcats are the hottest team in the country.

They've already won at Oklahoma and West Virginia. They're 7-0 overall, 4-0 in the conference, and for once a favorite going into this weekend's game against No. 15 Texas Tech.

Poring over the roster, though, this isn't the kind of team that should be stacking up against top-ranked Alabama, high-flying Oregon or even high-profile Notre Dame.

The vast majority of these guys weren't five-star prospects coming out of high school. Heck, most of them didn't even arrive at Kansas State out of high school, instead going through a junior college for reasons ranging from academics to lack of interest the first time around.

Eight of the 11 starters on defense went that route, including All-American candidate Nigel Malone, the team's top cornerback. Defensive tackle John Sua went to California's Allan Hancock College, hardly a pipeline to national prominence, and defensive ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis formed quite the pass-rushing tandem during their days at Hutchinson Community College.

Then there are the guys who WERE high-profile recruits but opted to go elsewhere, such as linebacker Arthur Brown, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.

He had his choice of schools coming out of Wichita, Kan., and opted for the sunshine and warm weather of Miami. When things didn't go how he foresaw, Brown headed back to the often-overcast, usually blustery and far more frigid life of Flint Hills.

``We have guys from all over, guys from different backgrounds, and it definitely adds character to our team,'' he said. ``That's one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.''

The offensive side of the ball is a similar collection of castoffs, misfits and guys who were never expected to compete for a national championship - at least, by people on the outside.

Certainly not by Snyder, though. He welcomed them with open arms.

Klein has emerged as one of the nation's most valuable players - he had seven touchdowns in the 55-14 rout of West Virginia - after being largely overlooked coming out of high school in Loveland, Colo. His only other interest came from the likes of Colorado State and Utah.

Just how highly sought were his quarterback skills? Even the coaches at Kansas State turned him into a wide receiver when he first got on campus.

Chris Harper went precisely the opposite direction.

He was a coveted quarterback recruit coming out of high school, and ultimately chose the swagger of Oregon over the old-school approach of the Wildcats. He switched to wide receiver early in his career, and ultimately decided to transfer to Kansas State for his sophomore season.

Now, he's an NFL prospect and the team's leading receiver.

``We have guys from all over,'' fellow wide receiver Curry Sexton said. ``That's something our coaching staff has been able to do, bring in players from around the country that fit our program, what we do here, and I think that's been important to our success.''

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett went to high school in Tulsa, Okla., but barely got a sniff from the Sooners. Running back John Hubert is from Waco, Texas, but the Longhorns didn't bite.

Tight end Travis Tannahill wasn't even among the top 10 players in Kansas coming out of high school, much less the country. Offensive linemen B.J. Finney is from tiny Andale, Kan., population 928. Fullback Braden Wilson is from Smith Center, a booming metropolis by comparison.

The one thread that ties them together? Their values, Snyder said - and their talent.

``The recruiting environment has turned upside down in regards to the timing. You look around right now and everybody has 25 commitments and the season's not half over,'' Snyder said. ``You have to get to know them to see if they fit in.''

If they do, well, it doesn't matter where they come from.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.