The 10 best seasons of Bill Snyder's legendary career at K-State
In 1989, a historically struggling Kansas State football program made the most important hire in the history of Wildcat athletics. Bill Snyder came to Manhattan as a veteran football coach with no Division I head coaching experience, inheriting a program with then the most losses in Division I history (299-510). However, Snyder proved almost immediately that he had the heart and endurance to pull off one of the most spectacular rebuild projects in college football history. As his legendary tenure at K-State continues, let's take a chronological look at Bill Snyder's best seasons with the royal purple.
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1991: Back to winning
After posting goose eggs in the win columns for the two seasons before Snyder was hired, Kansas State finally notched a win in his first season at the helm in 1989, which was relatively a positive step for the Wildcats. The next season, Snyder led K-State to its first conference wins in four seasons, finishing the season with a 5-6 record overall. However, the beginning of an epic turnaround began to see tangible results in the ’91 season (7-4; 4-3), when Snyder guided K-State to its first seven-win season since 1953, only its sixth season with seven or more wins in its 96-year history. The Wildcats compiled their first winning record in conference play in 21 years. The foundation had been set for the massive pillar that Snyder would erect in Manhattan.
Getty ImagesEarl Richardson
1993: Bowl history
After planting their stake in the ground in 1991, the Wildcats retreated in ’92, finishing with results identical to the ’90 season (5-6; 2-5), which was a general improvement for a long-suffering program, but not the kind of consistent progress Snyder set out to achieve when he laid the blueprint for the rebuilding project. Nonetheless, it was one step back, two steps forward. In 1993, Kansas State notched its first nine-win season since 1910. (For a little perspective on early 1900s college football, K-State's football coach also simultaneously coached the baseball and basketball teams in 1910). To top off a stellar season, K-State also played in its second-ever bowl game. The Wildcats didn't only play in the bowl game, but also won it in convincing fashion, 52-17 over Wyoming, marking their first bowl victory in program history.
Getty ImagesEarl Richardson
1995: Snyder's legacy begins
In retrospect, Snyder's legacy at K-State began the moment he touched down in Manhattan, but for all intents and purposes, his legacy began to solidify in 1995. All of a sudden, a program that had once been tagged "Futility U" had molded into a national powerhouse. For the third-straight season, the Wildcats won nine or more games (10-2; 5-2), secured a bowl berth and finished the season ranked in the Top 20. K-State's rise could no longer be perceived as a fluke but demanded to be recognized as the manifestation of hard work. In ’95, the Wildcats made a huge statement by defeating both No. 6 Kansas and No. 25 Oklahoma State during conference play and then went on to demolish Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl, 54-24. The program was more than just buoying in uncharted waters—it was creating a colossal wake as it sped along.
Getty ImagesCraig Jones
1997: 11-win elation, Big 12 title contention
If Snyder's legacy began in ’95, his dynasty at K-State began in 1997, during which the Wildcats pulled off their first 11-win season. It was an enormous benchmark for the program, which had needed seven seasons to amass 11 wins prior to Snyder's arrival. And the glory wasn't be short-lived, either. K-State went on to post 11-win seasons in the three seasons that followed as well and achieved the feat twice more during Snyder's first stint. With a 7-1 conference record, the Wildcats nearly won the Big 12's Northern Division, in their first shot at a conference title since 1934; however, No. 2 Nebraska, which defeated KSU that season, finished its conference slate undefeated (8-0). Still, K-State was knocking at the door in the Big 12 and was on its way to glory.
Getty ImagesTodd Warshaw
1998: Undefeated, rankings history
As William Edward Hickson is credited with saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." After coming within spitting distance of the Big 12 divisional title, the Wildcats put together their best season in program history in 1998. Plowing through even the conference's top-ranked teams in No. 14 Colorado, No. 11 Nebraska, and No. 19 Missouri, Kansas State secured a perfect 8-0 conference season, claiming the Big 12 Northern Division Title. The Wildcats also made their stamp on the national rankings, attaining the No. 1 overall spot for the first time in their 102-year history but suffered heartbreaking losses in both the Big 12 championship game and the Alamo Bowl.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
2000: Back-to-back bowl wins
Ranked in the Top 10 for the majority of the prior four seasons, the Wildcats were in contention for a national title every year, but a hitch here and there prevented them from reaching the pinnacle. One such snag was their inability to assert themselves as a perennial champion in bowl season. Although Snyder had led K-State to eight consecutive bowl berths, their success in the postseason zigzagged in a W-L-W-L-W-L-W pattern. The Wildcats suffered another near-miss for a conference championship in 2000, falling short to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game after surpassing Nebraska for the Northern Division title. Nevertheless, K-State rallied back in the Cotton Bowl, defeating Tennessee, 35-21 and securing Snyder's and the program's first back-to-back bowl victories.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
2002: Return to prominence
As it turns out, after back-to-back bowl victories, K-State had one of its worst seasons under Snyder, finishing 6-6 overall and tallying a losing conference record (3-5) for the first time in nine seasons. A tough one-point loss to No. 3 Oklahoma in KSU's 2001 Big 12 opener sent the Wildcats on a four-game skid, which eliminated them from contention early on. However, they followed one of Snyder's 16 goals in 2002: "Expect to win. And truly believe we will." Despite the ’01 lull, the Wildcats bounced right back, compiling their fifth 11-win season in six years (11-2; 6-2), making a huge statement during their non-conference slate by upsetting No. 11 USC. After a dismal season, K-State cracked back into the Top 10 by the end of the year. Instead of sending the Wildcats on a downward spiral, 2001 served as a recharging.
2003: Big 12 champs at long last
"Never give up," another one of Snyder's 16 goals for success, was the motto for the 2003 season. After thrusting themselves back into national distinction in 2002, the Wildcats came into '03 highly touted and ranked in the Top 10. While they'd roll past their first four non-conference opponents, Snyder's squad lost to Marshall in their final non-conference game and suffered defeats in their first two Big 12 games. However, those were the only two conference games the Wildcats lost, as they eclipsed Nebraska for the division title. The Big 12 title still seemed distant, though, as they had to surpass undefeated No. 1 Oklahoma. K-State handily defeated the powerhouse Sooners, 35-7, emphatically clinching its first conference title under Snyder, its second in program history.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
2011: Rebuilding a dynasty
After winning that illustrious Big 12 title, K-State crumbled. Snyder retired after two seasons of uncharacteristic mediocrity in ’04 (4-7) and ’05 (5-6), and his replacement, Ron Price, sustained that mediocrity for three more seasons, during which the Wildcats went 17-20. Just as Wildcat fans began to wonder if the program could ever return to supremacy, the Master Architect returned for another rebuilding project in Manhattan, this time in a building that bore his name. Snyder got things rolling again with winning records in ’09 and ’10, but it wasn't until 2011 that things really heated up. Now in his second tenure, Snyder led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season in eight years, which carried them to the Cotton Bowl, their first major bowl game in as many years. With Snyder back in the cockpit, K-State was back on the map.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
2012: Back to the mountaintop
If one of Snyder's 16 goals for success described the 2012 season, it was "Unity." After touted freshman QB Tavarious Bender transferred, K-State dipped in the preseason rankings and was expected to have an average season. Yet, the Wildcats banded together and achieved greatness. It all began with an upset win over No. 6 Oklahoma in Norman in their Big 12 opener. The Wildcats went go on to defeat every fellow ranked Big 12 opponent that season, climbing to No. 1 in the BCS for the first time in program history. More importantly, K-State's win over the Sooners gave it the necessary edge to win the Big 12 title, as it was tied with Oklahoma for first with identical 8-1 conference records. The Wildcats lost the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon, but that didn't stop them from celebrating their best season of the decade.