When Bill Snyder became Kansas State’s coach, the first time in 1989, he walked through the football offices, past the trophy case and saw that it held . . . one trophy. One. The 1982 Independence Bowl. Runners-up. Snyder was so embarrassed by K-State’s history that he took the trophy and gave it to his new secretary.
She took it home and put it on her piano.
Everyone already knows that Snyder has performed a miracle turnaround. That’s not what this is about. Instead, it’s about places in history, and how impossible they are to turn.
This is about Notre Dame, really. Notre Dame and Kansas State are the top contenders for the final spot in the BCS title game, the spot that will face (read: lose to) Alabama.
It is the perfect contrast. Notre Dame with maybe the greatest history in college football or Kansas State, with the worst. I’m in possibly a unique spot of having covered both teams for a living — K-State as a beat writer for the Wichita Eagle and Notre Dame as a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times.
K-State is a nice story waiting for a conclusion, a spot in the BCS title game. I just don’t see it happening for one main reason:
There is no way that an undefeated Notre Dame team is going to be left out of the national championship game.
That’s not based on any BCS-computer formulas. It’s about how voters see Notre Dame, and have seen the Irish for decades. It might even just be an accidental bias by now. But there is a reason the BCS rules were written around Notre Dame in the first place, to include the Irish whenever possible.
Two-thirds of the BCS rankings are decided on human voting. And college football has been waiting for years for Notre Dame to come back.
Historically, Notre Dame gets every break, every possible Heisman vote, every ranking, every bowl game. K-State’s history fit on a secretary’s piano, likely next to a fern.
Now, Notre Dame and Kansas State are trying for a national title trophy, and also for the Heisman Trophy: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and K-State quarterback Collin Klein are the favorites.
Klein seems to be everyone’s top choice (I’d go with Te’o.) And it’s just impossible to believe that the sport will short-change Notre Dame for Kansas State twice. Snyder and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly are both saying the right things, that they aren’t thinking about the national championship game. You have to keep your focus, they say.
In other words, both coaches are lying. Snyder has already allowed Klein to go on the Jim Rome show. During Snyder’s first time around, he never would have allowed such a thing. He used to do everything he could to keep players away from the media. Now, he needs a little help.
He knows that a good story will sell to voters.
I was there for Snyder’s first game. Kansas State was at Arizona State. At halftime, Arizona State’s band spelled out GoD evils on the field, but the D somehow was moved too far to the left, and it appeared to spell out the perfect truth for what Snyder was walking into:
It was hot as hell. And K-State’s players weren’t really in the best shape. They started cramping up, and midway into the fourth quarter, Snyder ran out of defensive linemen. He ran in players from other positions just to fill the line.
No matter what kind of job Snyder has done over the years, or what kind of failures Notre Dame has produced during that time, including the entire Charlie Weis tenure, the Irish have still kept their NBC contract. They still have been ranked higher than they had deserved, put in better bowl games than they had earned.
Every time any evidence of good football came from South Bend, the college football world went nuts. Ty Willingham had recovered the magic for half a season, and the national media all went running to talk to him. It was the neatest, most organized office you’ll ever see. Two years later, after reality hit, or even a little before, he was thrown out. Weis got a 10-year contract because he lost a close game to USC. Yes, lost.
Notre Dame was back on the map? Weis didn’t bother to develop players, but the he was labeled as the next legendary coach, anyway.
But it didn’t dissuade anyone nationally. They kept waiting.
It’s just part of being Notre Dame. They haven’t won a national title or a Heisman in a quarter of a century, but college football has just been waiting to tell the same classic (old) stories and talk about the same legendary (tired) imagery.
So it might seem as if Kansas State winning a Heisman and a national championship would be the best possible story, especially under a coach who left, then came back to lead a team in a stadium named after him.
That kind of stuff sways the poll voters. But Alabama’s offense against Notre Dame’s defense in the national championship game, with Te’o, whose girlfriend and grandmother both died during the season? It’s just hard to see Notre Dame beating USC in the final game, and then being voted out of the title game.
Before Snyder arrived, Kansas State was so bad that its own fans once got violent against their own team. Back then, the winner of the Big Eight would go to the Orange Bowl. Fans of the league’s top teams would bring oranges to the games and throw them on the field in celebration after big moments. K-State was the worst team in the country, and had scheduled a small-college team just so it could get one win in the season-opener.
Fans sarcastically brought oranges. But when Kansas State started losing, fans got angry. And they were just sitting there. With all those oranges. So they began to pelt K-State players and administrators on the sidelines.
At this point, it seems that Alabama is too good for everyone, though it still has to win at LSU. Oregon is in the mix with Notre Dame and Kansas State for the other spot in the title game. The computer guys think Oregon has it made, with the tough part of its schedule coming up, giving it a chance to pass both K-State and Notre Dame in the rankings.
I think Oregon is going to lose a game. K-State figures to win out, and Notre Dame has three easy games before the season-ender at USC.
And then voters will choose which team they are excited about, which one they want to see against Alabama. Who do you think it will be?