The program that should be playing for a Big 12 Championship at Kansas State on Saturday is just a spoiler.
The other team, with the athletic budget one-third the size of its opponent, with an even smaller fraction of elite recruits, is shaking off the disappointment of losing after a 10-0 start to the season. Instead, it will be going for just a conference championship, an 11-win season and a BCS bowl bid.
By all measures, Texas should never be looking up at Kansas State, but that's exactly the position the Longhorns are in.
Texas is 8-3, and the only regular-season opponent left for 10-1 Kansas State, which would clinch a Big 12 title with the win. The Wildcats overcame plenty of obstacles to get to this point.
According to Sports Business Daily, Kansas State operates with the second-smallest athletic budget in the Big 12, at $51.5 million for the 2012 fiscal year. Texas finds that in their pants pocket before every laundry day. The Longhorns' budget is a massive $153.5 million.
Recruiting is even more one-sided. With the Longhorns able to invest more into recruiting, able to pitch a great destination like Austin over a place like Manhattan, with the cache of being the flagship school in talent-rich Texas, they hoard elite recruits. Texas had 15 four-star recruits and two five-star recruits in its 2012 class, according to Rivals. Kansas State had only three four-star recruits ... in its last four recruiting classes combined. And only one of those players, defensive end Adam Davis, is a significant contributor.
Kansas State is also probably never going to have a network that pays it $15 million per year over 20 years, like the Longhorn Network. Mack Brown complains about the Longhorn Network. That money would make up about 30 percent of Kansas State's entire athletic budget.
Given all these circumstances, Kansas State's success is astonishing, especially when compared to Texas. The Wildcats' record this season is better. They've scored more points in Big 12 play than Texas. They've allowed fewer points in Big 12 play than Texas. Texas lost 63-21 to Oklahoma on a neutral field. Kansas State won 24-19 at Oklahoma.
Kansas State is an 11-point favorite on Saturday, and that's justified. The Wildcats have won four in a row against the Longhorns, a fascinating streak considering the huge head start Texas has become of its name, budget and location.
Plainly put, Kansas State being clearly better than Texas probably should never happen.
"I think my friend [Kansas State head coach] Bill Snyder has done the best job hands down of anybody in the country, from his starting date at Kansas State until today," Brown said. I don't think anybody would question that. Not only with this team this year, but with Kansas State before he got there, the struggles he had early, then he won big, took a break, then he came back and he's won big again.
"You have to give the man credit for being one of the best, if not the best coach in the country. I personally think he's the best in the country."
Kansas State needs to stay focused this week, because its last game was a major disappointment. The Wildcats were in line to play in the BCS Championship Game until they lost two weeks ago to Baylor. But a conference title would be a great accomplishment.
"We definitely need to get back on track," said quarterback Collin Klein, Kansas State's Heisman Trophy candidate. "There is definitely that mentality. I do not know if I would call it anger. There definitely a lot of emotion and just build up of, 'we just have to get back on track.' Our last two performances have not been stellar. There is definitely a lot of motivation there. I do not know what you want to classify it as, but there is definitely some emotional motivation."
Kansas State beating well-heeled Texas on Saturday to clinch the Big 12 title is what pretty much everyone expects to happen, and the game isn't supposed to be all that close. Pretty incredible.
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