When Kansas State struggled mightily to get past Eastern Kentucky 10-7 in its 2011 football season opener -- scoring in the last minute of the game to do so -- the Purple Pride faithful may have been wondering if the old man had finally lost it.
After all, if the Wildcats needed a miracle finish to get past a directional school that was supposed to be nothing more than fodder, what was going to happen when KSU entered Big 12 play?
But in the weeks to come, Bill Snyder showed why he’s still the Manhattan Miracle Worker who could very well have been the National Coach of the Year instead of Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. Knowing Snyder, he’s probably glad he didn’t receive the award, as he wants all the attention on what his team has accomplished.
Snyder took a team that was expected to do no better than 7-5 or 6-6 and drove it to a 10-2 record, with many of the wins being of the come-from-behind variety.
The Wildcats obviously were snubbed when it came time to hand out BCS assignments, as there’s no way either Michigan or Virginia Tech should have been picked ahead of them for the Sugar Bowl. They definitely were more deserving and Sugar Bowl officials obviously underestimated the Wildcats’ fan support, as countless thousands would have descended on the Big Easy.
As it is, the Cotton Bowl probably can’t thank the Sugar Bowl enough for its snub, as it has one of the marquee matchups of the bowl season, KSU against Arkansas. It should be a wildly entertaining game, as the Razorbacks play more like a Big 12 team than an SEC team, with its let-it-fly offensive philosophy and somewhat shaky defense, which should lead to a track meet, not like the defensive snoozer expected for the BCS championship game when LSU and Alabama lock up for what could be another field-goal fest.
Of all of Snyder’s amazing coaching jobs -- and there’s a handful to choose from -- we believe this is his best. He adapted to his personnel, tailoring his offense around the running ability of quarterback Collin Klein, who by all rights should have been in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. For what he does for the Wildcats, he was at least among the best five players in the country. Take away Klein and quite honestly, KSU probably would have been 6-6 and playing in the Belk Bowl.
And Snyder unearthed a gem of a running back in John Hubert, who going into the season was expected to be nothing more than the heralded Bryce Brown’s caddy. But Hubert played like Maurice Jones-Drew, often finding himself getting lost behind his offensive line.
The Kansas State defense, such a mess during the Ron Prince era, has returned to form, as Snyder again was able to turn to the juco ranks to fill his holes. While the Wildcats did leak at times -- they gave up more than 30 points on five occasions in the pass-happy Big 12 -- they had an uncanny knack of coming up with the big stop when they really needed it.
And special teams -- a staple during Snyder’s first KSU tenure -- time and again came up big, even after it lost dynamic kick returner Tyler Lockett.
Kansas State will never get the recognition it deserves, primarily because it’s not thought of as one college football’s bluebloods. But as far as college football stories of the year, the Wildcats should have ranked near the top.