MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — There will be a time not long from now that Kansas State’s players will gather to reflect on the season, one that’s brought unimaginable joy along with soul-crushing heartache.
It’s not that time just yet.
Despite a loss two weeks ago to Baylor that knocked the seventh-ranked Wildcats from national title consideration, they still have plenty to play for Saturday against No. 23 Texas: The third conference championship in school history and an automatic BCS bowl berth.
Not a bad consolation prize for a team expected to finish somewhere in the middle of the Big 12, but that rose to No. 1 in the BCS standings before that lousy night in Waco.
“I haven’t reflected back on the season. I haven’t reflected forward,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said this week. “I have reflected on our most recent game and our preparation for the game coming up. That’s where my attention has been.”
It certainly hasn’t been on No. 12 Oklahoma, which plays TCU earlier Saturday.
If the Sooners lose to the Horned Frogs, the Wildcats (10-1, 7-1) will already have wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 championship and, due to tiebreakers, the BCS bid, long before Collin Klein and the rest of the senior class is introduced to a sellout crowd.
“It’s going to be an emotional day for me,” said Klein, who is widely expected to be invited to New York City next week for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
“I know being around here now for, this is my fifth year, you see a lot of players enter and exit in their tenure, and now my time has come in that sense, and that’s not an easy thing,” Klein said. “I have so many fond memories of my time here. It’s going to be hard.”
The Sooners are comfortable favorites to beat TCU, which means the Wildcats are certainly preparing for the Longhorns (8-3, 5-3) as if they’ll need to win themselves.
Kansas State’s only Big 12 title came in 2003, when it beat then-No. 1 Oklahoma when the conference still had a championship game. Its only other league title came in 1934, during the old Big Six days, when Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf was the coach.
More common have been the kind of losing seasons that brought Snyder to Manhattan, Kan., in the late-1980s, and brought him back from a brief retirement a few years ago.
“We’ve just been fortunate, and it’s been good fortune,” Snyder said. “We’ve played well most of the time, but again, Texas is the dominant football program and you have to have good fortune to beat teams like that, and particularly in this conference.”
There is plenty at stake besides the championship, too.
Start with Klein, who until a couple of poor showings — including a disastrous three-interception game against Baylor — was the Heisman frontrunner. Now, he may need to play the best game of his career to upstage Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, who won’t have the chance to impress voters Saturday with their regular seasons already finished.
“It’s hard to get away from that stuff,” Klein said, “especially in this day and age, with social media and everything around, but it’s just a matter of being the best I possibly can.”
The Wildcats have beaten the Longhorns four straight times, so for Texas, there’s the desire to put an end to several years’ worth of frustration.
“I watched a couple of those games,” Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “They’re a great-coached team. They come to play each and every week. I feel like they’re mature guys. They play each and every week with a lot of intensity. It’s kind of crazy to see our record against them.
“We can go out and change that,” Diggs said. “I have three more years to play these guys. I hope to change that while I’m here.”
The Longhorns, who plan to start Case McCoy over David Ash at quarterback, also will be trying to improve their bowl destination. They’re tied for third in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State, which plays Baylor on Saturday and beat Texas earlier this season.
“We’re going in as underdogs,” Texas offensive lineman Mason Walters said. “Kansas State has played good ball almost all year long. They’re a talented team. They’re an experienced team. Great quarterback, really solid defense. I really think this week is more about accepting the challenge and going out and putting everything you have on the line.
“Your pride is put out there,” Walters said. “They’re a team that can blow you out, or you can go out and give yourself a chance to win. Last time I went to Manhattan, it wasn’t a fun experience. Last year we had a close game here where we fought hard. I expect more something like that. We’re going to give everything we have for this regular-season game.”