This article seems premature, but I’m going to be straight with y’all. When I started writing for Bring On The Cats in 2018, I didn’t expect to be writing about the Wildcats in the Big 12 Championship game in 2022. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Chris Klieman would be successful, but I was thinking more of an 8 year build, not a 4 year build with a lost Covid season (obviously didn’t see that one coming) thrown into the mix, and yet, here we are, getting ready to watch the Cats take on the Horned Frogs.
It’s weird. My first impression of Kansas State during the Klieman era was against TCU, and it wasn’t great. Despite the victory, Bill Snyder Family Stadium felt dead. 45,000 thousand people were sitting around waiting for something bad to happen, and when nothing did, and the Wildcats pulled out the 24-17 victory, every stood up and shuffled their way to the parking lot.
What a difference three seasons makes.
Sadly, after moving to Athens, Georgia a little over a year ago, I wasn’t able to make it to any home games this season (I plan on trying next year). Still, The Bill sounded electric on television all season, the student section, in particular, crushed it. When I moved to Manhattan, I heard stories about the atmosphere in the stadium, but this felt like the first season where everyone was back on board. The Klieman hire was met with a healthy bit of skepticism, but even the most ardent critics are painting themselves purple and Wabash Cannonballing this season. It’s a joy to behold.
That brings me to the game tomorrow. This team should be defined by making the Big 12 Championship game, winning it would be a cherry on the top of an already magnificent sundae. In a way, Kansas State is an affront to the corporate model of college football. They’re not a “blue blood”, they don’t play in a major television market, and outside of Deuce Vaughn, I’m not sure anyone in the national media could name another player on the roster — hell, Tim Brando is paid to announce games, and he doesn’t know who is on the K-State roster.
In a sport obsessed with recruiting and the “blue chip ratio” all K-State does is line up who they’ve got and win football games. The offense features two former walk-on receivers, an offensive lineman who was considered a 2* defensive tackle by the recruiting gurus, a former maligned back up quarterback who stuck around long enough to be revered, and a star 5’6” tailback who was ranked as the 1,235th best player in the nation coming out of high school.
The defense is more of the same. The defensive line is anchored by a 6th-year guy who came in as a defensive end and will leave as a nose guard. The star defensive end was the lowest ranked recruit in his K-State class. The star linebacker, the highest rated K-State recruit on the team, was considered a bust after not making an impact until his junior season. He’s flanked by a safety-sized walk-on linebacker who leads the team in tackles. One corner was considered an injury liability at Iowa and the other held one other P5 offer, and that was from a team that loosely fits that definition. The rest of the starting secondary consists of a Prairie View A&M transfer, a North Dakota State and UVA transfer, and a true freshman thrust into the starting lineup after the Cat’s star junior college transfer safety went down to injury. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
On paper Kansas State doesn’t look much like a Power 5 team — on the field, they look like one of the best football teams in the nation (rankings and results back me up on this). This team took the “regular” formula for building a winner, crumpled it up, tossed it in Tuttle Creek Lake, and won anyway. There will be teams watching at home while Wildcats take the field on Saturday littered with 5* prospects picking up N.I.L. checks bigger than what K-State players make combined.
When you sit down with your beverage of choice tomorrow (I’ll be enjoying a bloody mary to start, followed by another bloody mary (and possibly a 3rd depending on the way things go), before shifting to beer), keep in mind that the team you’re watching win the Big 12 Championship is breaking every trend in college football and doing it with style. This is a special team. I think they find a way to win tomorrow, and if (when) that happens, know there will be a celebration in Athens, Georgia, even if it’s just me and the dogs doing the Wabash Cannonball in the living room.
Y’all take care and enjoy the game.