Very few people outside of Manhattan, Kansas expected much out of Kansas State’s football team before last year. Coming off of a season that saw the Wildcats earn a trip to the Cotton Bowl where they would fall to the Arkansas Razorbacks, the pre-season coaches poll predicted the 2012 team to finish in sixth place in the Big 12 Conference.
5 months and 11 wins later, Center B.J. Finney and Linebacker Arthur Brown hoisted the Big 12 Championship trophy on a hastily erected stage in the middle of Bill Snyder Family Stadium to cheers of jubilation from the Wildcat faithful who had rushed the field after K-State’s 42-24 handling of the Texas Longhorns. Led by Head Coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats had shocked the Big 12 coaches and teams after an incredible Big 12 season on the way to their first conference title since 2003.
Flashback to the beginning of the season. After a 51-9 win in their inaugural game against Missouri State, few in the conference batted an eye. After all, this was only Missouri State, who didn’t expect the Wildcats to win that one with ease, right?
The next week saw the University Miami roll into town. After K-State’s 2011 game against the Hurricanes came down to the wire in Miami—the ‘Cats only winning after a goal-line stop on the final Miami drive, many (myself included) anticipated this game to be just as competitive. From the opening kickoff, however, the Wildcats dominated in every aspect of the game. Led by an outstanding performance from quarterback Collin Klein which saw the senior throw for a touchdown and run for another three, the Wildcats coasted to a 52-13 victory, downgrading the Hurricanes to a minor tropical storm.
While K-State’s offense turned quite a few heads, the defense was causing just as many to do a double take. The Wildcat defense forced and recovered 3 fumbles against Miami, setting up the offense for scores each time. Even more impressively, they didn’t allow the ‘Canes to score a touchdown until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter—the first touchdown allowed by the ‘Cats on the season, and it came when the outcome had all but been decided. The buzz surrounding the Wildcats was growing—and this time not just in Manhattan.
After another strong performance by Klein (210 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and a 1-yard scamper for a touchdown), the Wildcats defeated North Texas 35-21 to take the Kansas State to a perfect 3-0. Their non-conference schedule complete, Bill Snyder and company turned their eyes to their next test: facing No. 4 ranked Oklahoma in Norman.
Sooner head coach Bob Stoops had never lost to a top-25 ranked opponent at home coming into the game – K-State was ranked 15th as they walked onto Owen Field. Slated to be a competitive game, the action on the field didn’t disappoint. But it wasn’t Klein and the high-powered Wildcat offense that had an immediate impact on the game. Instead it was the defense who opened the scoring for KSU In the second quarter, linebacker Justin Tuggle forced a fumble out of OU quarterback Landry Jones deep in Oklahoma territory which was then recovered by Jarrell Childs in the end zone for the score. After three quarters of play, the Sooners had pulled back ahead 13-10 in a back-and-forth game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Wildcats would regain the lead for good after touchdown runs from Klein and running back John Hubert. K-State would hold on defensively, allowing just one more touchdown from the Sooners, followed by a failed two-point conversion to set the final score at 24-19 in favor of Bill Snyder’s Wildcats.
Once again, despite a good performance on offense, it was the defense that was getting attention. Holding a potent Sooner offense to just 19 points at home was no easy task, but the Wildcats had done just that, and coaches across the Big 12 now knew just what Kansas State was capable of.
After a thorough 56-16 dismantling of in-state rival Kansas in Manhattan, K-State went on the road to Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones in a ‘farmageddon’ matchup that would test the Wildcats’ toughness. Going into the half, K-State held a slim 17-14 lead on the back of two Klein rushing touch downs and a field goal from Senior Anthony Cantele. Klein would go on to tally another score on a 12 yard run in the third quarter to put the white and silver clad up 24-14. Iowa State scored for the early in the fourth quarter, but it would be their last as Cantele added another field goal, making the final tally 27-21, taking Kansas State to 6-0 on the season and a perfect 3-0 in Big 12 games.
Despite having started the season in great form, questions were still being asked of K-State’s defense as they made their way to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on Big 12 newcomers West Virginia, led by the Mountaineers’ Heisman hopeful, quarterback Geno Smith. West Virginia was looking to rebound after a thorough defeat to the Red Raiders of Texas Tech the week before, and fans that packed into Milan Puskar Stadium had hopes of witnessing just such a recovery against the Wildcats of Kansas State. Those fans were to be disappointed, however, as Bill Snyder’s team had no intention of giving up their undefeated status, and asserted their authority as the top team in the Big 12 from the opening kickoff. Collin Klein would have an outstanding performance against the questionable defense of West Virginia, amassing four rushing touchdowns while throwing for another three as he picked up a career-high 323 yards through the air on 19-21 passing, propelling him headfirst into Heisman contention.
After the game in Morgantown, the Wildcats returned to Manhattan for their next two games, winning handily against Texas Tech (55-24) and Oklahoma State (44-30). The Wildcats took their new No. 2 national ranking on the road, this time to visit the Horned Frogs of TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. The other Big-12 newcomers provided a test for the Wildcats, but once again, it was the defense of Kansas State that helped the team improve to 10-0 on the season. After shutting out the Horned Frogs for 3 quarters, TCU would score 10 points in the final quarter, but it proved to be too little, too late as K-State held on for a 23-10 victory. The tally of 10 points was the fewest points TCU had registered at home under head coach Gary Patterson.
The win would vault Kansas State into the No. 1 spot in the nation for the first time in school history. Sitting at a perfect 10-0 and with seven wins over conference foes, the Wildcats traveled to Waco, Texas to face the Bears of Baylor. On paper, the game looked to be a simple one for the number one team in the nation. Baylor was sporting a 4-5 record, with their only conference win coming over the Kansas Jayhawks, who were winless in the Big 12.
From the opening kickoff however, it seemed the Bears had K-State’s number. Baylor scored on their opening drive, taking less than two minutes for Senior Quarterback Nick Florence to find a receiver for a 38 yard passing touchdown. Klein and the ‘Cats answered, tying the game up on their next drive. Baylor, however, as able to recover from K-State’s counterpunch, and scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives, leading the Bears into halftime with a 28-17 lead. The offensive prowess of Baylor showed up yet again, this time on the ground, as Baylor scored three rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, putting them ahead 52-24 at the end of the quarter. The fourth quarter would see neither offense score en route to Kansas State’s first loss of the season.
Baylor had forced K-State’s normally balanced offense off of their game. By the end K-State had attempted 51 passes (the previous high on the season had been 28 attempts, against both Oklahoma State and Missouri State), and the normally accurate and mistake-proof Collin Klein had racked up 3 interceptions (he had 2 for the season entering the game). The dreams of an undefeated season had come to a crashing halt, all at the hands of the lowly Baylor Bears. One week after gaining their No. 1 ranking, K-State had squandered their hopes for a shot at the BCS National Championship. As with any Bill Snyder coached team, however, the Wildcats remained composed and turned their attention to the next week—they still had to win against Texas at home to secure the Big 12 title.
After disappointment in Waco, the ‘Cats were welcomed home for senior night to an electric atmosphere—the fans who had packed into Bill Snyder Family Stadium knew what was at stake in the season finale. The Wildcats gave their fans something to cheer about on their opening drive, capped off by a 1 yard touchdown run by Klein, but by the end of the first half they trailed the Longhorns 10-7, and tensions were running high amongst the Wildcat Faithful. After the break, K-State and Texas would trade touchdowns before the purple-clad Wildcats would score four straight, cruising to a 42-24 win. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Willie Wildcat appeared atop the Dev Nelson to lead the 51,000 Kansas State fans in an eardrum-shattering cry of K-S-U, followed by those fans engulfing the field in purple to watch their Wildcats’ claim their first Big 12 trophy in nearly a decade.
After being picked to finish in the middle of the Big 12 pack, Coach Bill Snyder’s players had a chip on their shoulders, and they played every game with the intent to prove their critics wrong. A team composed of junior-college transfers and lesser-known recruits had completed their regular season schedule, facing and beating powerhouses like Oklahoma and Texas along the way, and finishing with only one loss, and earning a birth in a BCS bowl.
Although this year’s coaches poll isn’t yet out, already many are asking similar questions of K-State’s 2013 team in the pre-season as they did of the 2012 team. With the graduation of Heisman finalist Collin Klein and defensive anchor Arthur Brown, and the loss of 9/11 of the defensive starters, there are certainly questions to be asked of Bill Snyder’s team. In the weeks ahead, I’ll take a look a look at K-State position-by-position to help give a more accurate impression of what to expect from the Wildcats in the upcoming season, and help answer some of those lingering questions. Just over 40 days until the 2013 season kicks off!