The season did not meet the expectations Kansas State established since Bill Snyder returned to coaching.
Outside the program, no one really figured the Wildcats would put forth much of a bid to defend the Big 12 championship they captured a year ago. Or even approach the double-digit win totals they managed each of the last two seasons. A preseason media poll picked Kansas State fifth.
Well, it did finish fifth. Still, the 7-5 finish, coupled with a 5-4 mark in league play, was unsettling, even after Kansas State thumped in-state rival Kansas, 31-10, to close the regular season.
"Finishing 7-5 is simply not good enough," said defensive end Ryan Mueller, the Big 12 leader with 11.5 sacks. "This program had been climbing and climbing. This year was different. We learned to roll with the punches, and now we look forward to going to a bowl game and treat it like a next game we've got to win."
By altering goals, the Wildcats can take some solace in their finish, but only because players did not compromise their values. A 2-4 start could have left the squad in tatters. As it was, the early defeats jeopardized any postseason plans. Yet Kansas State recovered by minimizing the turnovers that contributed to narrow defeats.
Still, the tendency to look back and wonder what could have happened had a few plays gone differently is only natural. Particularly since Kansas State never lost by more than 10 points and the collective margin in its five setbacks was 37 points.
"What is it you remember? Well, you remember the losses," Snyder said. "The biggest margin was 10 points and there wasn't a ballgame where we didn't have our chances. So that's a frustrating experience."
Even against Kansas, the Wildcats were disappointed to some extent because they left points on the field failing to convert some opportunities presented by the six turnovers they forced.
Still, the win was another step toward stability as the Wildcats won for the fifth time in six games. The win was also the fifth straight against their in-state rival, all under Snyder, who is 18-4 all-time against the Jayhawks.
"A lot of people kind of started doubting us, and it might have crossed our minds at one time," said junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett, "but we had to keep on fighting. We had seven more games left, and if we'd have given up, we wouldn't be going to a bowl game. The biggest thing was just trying to fight and figure out those things that are going wrong that were making us lose."
Kansas State is one of six Big 12 teams to qualify for bowl games.
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 14 IN THE BIG 12:
1. Baylor managed to make a key interception at the end to preserve a win at TCU, proving that the Bears can count on a defense that is vastly improved and stocked with experienced veterans. The close test kept the Bears in the hunt for the Big 12 title despite a sporadic offense.
2. Texas has the beef to control games at the line of scrimmage, both with a stout defensive line and blockers who can gain a good push to open the ground game. Success on the ground provides a comfort level for QB Case McCoy to choose his spots throwing the football.
3. Kansas State was disappointed with its final record, but not the way it finished. The Wildcats overturned a 2-4 start and won five of six down the stretch to qualify for a bowl. They continue to dominate Kansas, boosting Bill Snyder's record to 18-4 against the in-state rival.
4. Iowa State could have easily given up on the season after going winless through their first seven Big 12 games and lacking punch on offense. The Cyclones, however, closed with two straight wins, recovering from a 24-point deficit to beat West Virginia in triple-overtime.