I was reminded Saturday night of something Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said four years ago.
It stuck with me. It was his first year back on the sideline and things weren’t going that well for his Wildcats. Snyder’s team had just lost on the road at Louisiana-Lafayette 17-15.
“If they are in pain, in some agony, if they do feel tremendously disappointed and hurt by this, then that will be a good thing for them,” Snyder said after that loss. “That would tell me that they are invested in it and that they really care and we can learn from this.”
Even though the circumstances were different Saturday night at Baylor, the message was still the same.
That’s really what is at stake now for the Wildcats, who watched their dream of a perfect season turn into a nightmare at the hands of a Baylor team with just one Big 12 win all year.
Just 48 hours ago K-State was thinking big, bigger than any Wildcats team has in the past 15 years, especially this late in the season with a No. 1 BCS ranking and just two games to play. Two wins, or 120 minutes of winning football, sat between a team that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 and playing for a national championship.
In control of their own destiny, seemingly on a collision course with Oregon in the national title game just days ago, K-State must now pick up the pieces and salvage its season, just like Oregon, which also lost Saturday night.
Winning the Big 12 title and playing in a BCS game seemed like a given, almost downplayed in the last month because this K-State team was supposed to do more. Winning the Big 12 was more like picking up the dry cleaning on your way to get a new car.
Today the Wildcats are sixth in the BCS and the chance at reaching the national championship game has become more difficult, to say the least. But the goals haven’t changed. There’s still a lot this team can accomplish. No team in K-State history has ever won 12 games before. And no K-State team has won a BCS game.
What this team accomplished in the first 11 games was not all lost Saturday night. K-State’s 10 wins that earned the No. 1 ranking — even for a week — still count. Baylor was the better team two days ago, but the Wildcats were the better team every single weekend for the previous 10 weeks. That should mean something.
Quarterback Collin Klein is still one of the best players in the country and still worthy of the Heisman Trophy. I don’t believe one can go from being the Heisman front-runner the past six weeks to out of contention in Week 11, especially when the other option is a freshman QB on a two-loss Texas A&M team.
Did Klein’s stock take a hit? Sure it did. But there’s a still a showcase game with Texas looming on Dec. 1 in Manhattan.
That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed — the significance of that game with the Longhorns. Sure, that was supposed to be the game to get K-State into the BCS championship. But now, the Texas game is an opportunity for the Wildcats to finish the right way and do something the 1998 team couldn’t do — avoid letting one team beat it twice.
Baylor can’t turn into this team’s Texas A&M. And Texas can’t be this team’s Purdue, or the 2012 team might actually find itself playing in the Alamo Bowl again. History doesn’t have to repeat itself this time.
As great as the 1998 team was and significant in K-State’s history for what it accomplished, its also the team that provided Wildcat fans with the single greatest disappointment because it showed no bounce-back ability, no will to get off the mat after being knocked down.
These Wildcats don’t have to go down the same road.
A win over Texas gives K-State its second Big 12 title and secures the Wildcats of the Fiesta Bowl against maybe, just maybe Oregon after all.
A loss to Texas means K-State could fall to the Alamo Bowl because the Cotton Bowl could take the Longhorns.
Finishing strong comes down to a choice, though. Nobody can make it for the hurting Wildcats, not even Snyder, who’s seen pain in his team like this many times before.
Individually and then collectively, the Wildcats have to decide which direction they want their season to go and what they want to be remembered for 15 years from now.
Go ask the 1998 Wildcats if they have any regrets.