There were any number of kick-in-the-teeth moments for Kansas State fans — too many to count — but the sequence that perhaps most neatly summed up Baylor 52, Wildcats 24, came with 7:51 left in the nightmare.
The Bears’ quarterback, Nick Florence, faces a 2nd-and-10 from inside his end zone. He drops the snap. In his end zone. Any number of things can happen at this point, most of them undesirable for the offense.
But this is what happens: In an instant, Baylor running back Glasco Martin scoops up the ball, tucks it to his chest, spots a hole, and sprints out of the end zone — all the way to the Bears’ 16-yard-line.
Sometimes, it’s just not your night.
You just don’t want those nights to be in November, in prime time, on national television, when everyone’s waiting to see you blink. In the crazy, illogical world of the Bowl Championship Series, timing is everything.
After Halloween, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Oregon, the BCS No. 2, falls hard. K-State, the BCS No. 1, falls harder.
That cheering you heard late Saturday evening came from the Southeastern Conference offices in Alabama, from sunny South Bend, Ind., and from network executives who realized that their dream national title matchup — Irish vs. Crimson Tide, Old Money vs. Old Money — was now very much alive again.
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Kan., a dream died. Several dreams, probably.
Oh, sure, the Big 12 championship is still very much in play, as is a BCS berth, both fine things. But you can kiss that crystal football good-bye. Teams that lose by 28 points in November to a 4-5 team — even if that 4-5 team was better than its record and played as if its hair was on fire — don’t get invited to the national title party. The memory’s too fresh, the shame too recent. If you’re going to lose, lose early. Better yet, don’t lose at all.
And Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein, Sports Illustrated’s cover boy, saw his Facebook status change from “Heisman Trophy Lock” to “Heisman Trophy Maybe” in the span of about four hours. That’s not to take anything away from a season that’s been remarkable, nor a career that’s been spectacular. It’s just that, again, late November is an awful, awful time to have your worst performance of the season. Throwing three interceptions against the Big 12’s worst defense, statistically, is no way to make a closing argument.
This wasn’t about a silly magazine cover curse, although that will doubtlessly be blamed, the way Cubs fans still hold a grudge against Steve Bartman. This was about Baylor, the team with nothing to lose, bringing its “A” game against an opponent with everything on the line. The 50-something points for the Bears, the speed and precision of Baylor’s high-octane spread offense, you saw coming. If there was a crack in coach Bill Snyder’s purple armor, it was in the secondary, and now the unit was without its best player, safety Ty Zimmerman, stuck on the sidelines after reportedly suffering a leg injury at TCU. You better believe Florence knew exactly where Zimmerman was. Or rather, where he wasn’t. In basketball parlance, this was always going to be a tricky matchup.
No, it was the complete implosion of the K-State offense, the mere 24 points for the Wildcats, that confounded logic, defied precedent. Tip of the cap to Bears defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who held the same position at K-State, under Snyder, from 1999-01. Snyder has dropped very few chess matches over the decades, but for one week, at least, his stratagems almost always seemed a step behind. An offensive line that some had touted as one of the best in school history leaked from the get-go. Klein was under constant harassment; tailback John Hubert, back in his native Waco, never got untracked; and a team that prefers to chew clock and throttle the opposition slowly looked uncomfortable when forced to hurry.
The Wildcats turned the ball over three times and committed seven penalties, or more than twice their weekly average (3.2 per game). For months, K-State seemed too disciplined, too methodical, to be felled by a total, utter meltdown. And yet, there it was.
Maybe it was the specter of No. 1. Maybe it was the magazine covers. Maybe it was just one of those nights. But in this game, at this stage of the season, you don’t ever get those nights back.