K-State looks to future after Fiesta Bowl loss
All season, Kansas State was content to live in the moment.
Longtime coach Bill Snyder has adhered to the ''one week at a time'' mantra for two decades, so it was fairly easy to do. Practice and film study early in the week, the finishing touches on the game plan later in the week, and then put it all together on Saturday.
The result was 10 straight wins to start the season and a slow climb to the top of the BCS standings. After a heart-wrenching loss to Baylor dashed their national title dreams, the Wildcats responded with a rout of Texas to win only their second Big 12 championship.
They also earned a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, where No. 7 Kansas State made too many of the mistakes it had avoided all season in losing to fifth-ranked Oregon on Thursday night.
Now, the Wildcats are forced to look toward the future - one filled with uncertainty.
Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, their blood-and-guts quarterback, has finished his dazzling career. So have some of his biggest threats on offense. All-Big 12 linebacker Arthur Brown and nine other regulars on defense are also moving on.
''They're young guys that have given so much to Kansas State University, to the family of Kansas State and to our football program,'' Snyder said shortly after the Wildcats' 35-17 loss to the Ducks. ''I appreciate all they've done.''
No doubt, he also appreciates how big the task will be in replacing them.
The most daunting one is at quarterback.
Klein evolved from an also-ran wide receiver into a dominant signal-caller during his time at Kansas State, leading the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl last season and even greater heights this season. Along the way, he threw for more than 4,700 yards, ran for nearly 2,500 and accounted for 87 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
He was the Big 12's offensive player of the year this season, a second-team All-American and the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
''I mean, I'm just so blessed that God's given me the opportunity to be here at K-State,'' he said, ''be part of this family, play with all of our guys, play for coach.''
There will likely be competition to replace Klein.
Backup Daniel Sams only attempted eight passes all season in mop-up duty. He'll be pushed by Jake Waters, the nation's top junior-college quarterback this past season.
Whoever wins the job will still have running back John Hubert and talented wide receiver Tyler Lockett, along with the entire offensive line. But he won't have Chris Harper, the former Oregon quarterback who became their top pass-catcher, or tight end Travis Tannahill, who developed into a solid downfield option.
There are even more holes on the defensive side.
Brown began his career at Miami before transferring to Kansas State, where he became a team captain and was this voted the Big 12's top defensive player by the conference.
He led a defense stocked with experienced players that managed to shut down some of the Big 12's most high-powered offenses - Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech among them.
Brown will be moving on along with fellow linebackers Jarrell Childs and Justin Tuggle, and the entire defensive line: tackles John Sua and Vai Lutui and ends Adam Davis and Meshak Williams. Cornerbacks Allen Chapman and Nigel Malone and safety Jared Milo are also seniors.
Yes, questions certainly abound as the Wildcats try to plug in replacements.
Snyder's future is yet another question.
The architect of what's widely been considered the greatest turnaround in the history of college football came back from a brief retirement in 2009 and did it again, taking a program that had lost its way back to the top of the Big 12.
Athletic director John Currie has said that the 73-year-old Snyder can remain Kansas State's coach ''as long as he wants,'' but only Snyder knows how long that will be. He routinely turns back any questions about his future, preferring to focus entirely on the present.
Still, it's clear Kansas State is positioning itself for his retirement.
The athletic department has begun a massive construction project on the west side of the stadium that bears Snyder's name. While the immediate goal is to create better facilities for players and a better experience for fans, the long-term upshot is that it should help Kansas State woo Snyder's replacement, whenever that's necessary.
For now, it appears Snyder is turning his attention toward next season.
Given everybody they'll lose to graduation, the Wildcats probably will expected to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Big 12, and that should suit them just fine.
That's right where they were picked to finish this season.