GLENDALE, Ariz. – Collin Klein was the picture of dejection following Kansas State’s 35-17 loss to Oregon on Thursday in the Fiesta Bowl. To his coach, the quarterback’s countenance was no surprise.
“He wears it on his sleeve,” Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. “He wears his faith on his sleeve. He wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve. He wears his leadership on his sleeve. He wears the quality of person that he is on his sleeve, and he’s not embarrassed by it by any stretch of the imagination.
“To me, that just makes him so real and so genuine.”
Klein’s incredible senior ride came to a crashing halt at University of Phoenix Stadium against a Ducks defense that answered every challenge. Klein completed just 17 of 32 passes for 151 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and he rushed for just 30 yards on 13 carries.
Oregon’s underrated defensive front was staunch at the point of attack and quick to penetrate gaps to blow up plays in the backfield, posting six tackles for loss.
“They made a lot of great plays, moved around, really flew to the football, executed better than us,” Klein said. “It’s not the way any of us wanted to go out, but you know, that’s the way it goes.”
Kansas State’s season wasn’t what anybody expected – neither its start nor its finish. The Wildcats were ranked No. 22 in the AP preseason poll behind five other Big 12 teams but rose to the top spot after a 10-0 start that included wins over four ranked teams.
A stunning and decisive 52-24 loss at Baylor ended the Wildcats’ national championship hopes, but the Fiesta Bowl was still considered the No. 1 challenger to the BCS Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama – the next-best matchup in a BCS bowl lineup short on intrigue. It was another chance for the Wildcats to end a decade-long bowl drought.
“I’m just so proud to be a part of a team that did that and didn’t allow anyone to tell us how good or how bad we were going to be,” Klein said. “It’s overshadowed right now, but that is something to hang our hat on.”
In the regular season, Klein completed 180 of 272 passes for 2,490 yards (66.2 percent) with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 890 yards and 22 TDs and was named a Heisman Trophy finalist.
There is plenty of speculation about how Klein’s talent will translate at the next level – and not much of it is overly positive. Klein is not considered one of the nation’s top QB prospects because of a funky throwing motion and poor mechanics. Some have unfavorably labeled him a poor man’s Tim Tebow.
But as he sat at the podium for his final press conference as a Wildcat, his value to his teammates and coach was apparent in their words – and in the intangibles he brings to the table.
“He means everything,” receiver Chris Harper said. “Everybody might not see us as the most talented team in America, but we hang our hat on toughness – giving the greatest effort we can.
“This dude sums it up to a T. One of the hardest workers and probably one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever met. He sums it up perfectly.” Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter