FORT WORTH, Texas – When it was over Saturday night, Bill Snyder gathered his players in the victorious Kansas State locker room and broke the news: Alabama had lost, and the path was now clear for the Wildcats to be No. 1 in the BCS rankings for the first time in school history.
A huge roar followed as Snyder wrote on the chalkboard, “Two games to South Florida!”
Do you believe that scene? Please. It never happened. It never will as long as Snyder is alive and coaching and methodically leading the most buttoned-down program in college football.
There was no announcement. There was no roar. There was no public rejoicing in No. 1 Alabama’s shocking loss, no discussion of this momentous occasion or the monumental opportunity arrayed in front of 10-0 K-State.
“I just found out from you guys,” said safety Jarard Milo, talking to reporters after the Wildcats’ 23-10 victory over TCU.
“Coach Snyder doesn’t like to talk about that stuff,” kicker Anthony Cantele said.
The topic still had to be addressed, so I asked Snyder for his thoughts of the shocking upset of the Crimson Tide, and what it meant for K-State.
“I have no thoughts on it whatsoever,” he said.
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The rest of the nation will think about it for him. Kansas State, historically one of the most inept programs in the sport, has an excellent shot at playing for the national title Jan. 7 in South Florida if it beats Baylor in Waco and Texas in Manhattan to close the regular season.
It’s little short of a miracle. But on a jarring, status quo shaking Saturday in college football, it was bloodless business as usual for Kansas State.
The world outside K-State's rigid purple cocoon is regarded with extreme suspicion, if not outright aversion. The 73-year-old Snyder would rather do “Dancing With The Stars” shirtless than deal with poisonous speculation about things like BCS rankings, national championships and Heisman Trophies.
Those are things beyond the control of America’s leading gridiron control freak. Snyder prefers dealing with what he can manipulate.
He can control media access to his Heisman candidate quarterback Collin Klein, and he did Saturday night – Klein was off-limits, lest someone dare ask him about the injury last week that was a non-factor in this game. (Klein played, turning in three spectacular plays – a 34-yard touchdown run and two key passes – in a night of otherwise unspectacular results.) He can control the general message from the players’ mouths, and it is unfailingly bland and cautious. He can control his team’s public appearance, which is why every Wildcat on this trip wore a shirt, a tie and a matching black blazer with a Kansas State logo on it. He can control where they sit on the team plane, which is why players, coaches and staffers had a lanyard around their necks with their seat locations for both inbound and outbound flights.
“Sixteen-A,” linebacker Arthur Brown said with a smile.
That is K-State football in a nutshell. Everyone knows where to be, at all times. Everyone knows what to do, at all times. Everyone buys in to Snyder’s meticulous dogma, at all times.
Hard to argue with the results.
This is by no means the most talented team in America. Check the Rivals.com recruiting rankings, and this is what you see for the Wildcats: The 2012 class was ranked 58th nationally, behind Duke and Washington State. The 2011 class was ranked 68th, behind East Carolina and Toledo. The 2010 class was ranked 63rd, behind Memphis and Colorado State. The 2009 class was ranked 92nd, behind Florida Atlantic and Western Michigan.
The last class with any recruiting oomph was in 2008, when it ranked 27th. Only one fifth-year senior from that class played a major role Saturday night, and that was Klein – the three-star kid from Loveland, Colo., who spent his first season playing wide receiver and special teams. Not even his parents could have envisioned him as a Heisman candidate. Klein is part of a program cobbled together via all manner of meandering routes to Manhattan. There are players from 18 different states on the roster, including several from the three major pipelines: Texas, Florida and California. But there also are vagabonds from Utah, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and Louisiana – many of them arriving via the junior-college ranks.
What happens when Snyder gathers these disparate parts is where the magic happens. His K-State team has coalesced into a group that is averse to errors, fundamentally solid and in collective lockstep.
The Wildcats came into this game tied for the fewest penalties in America, with 31. They committed one Saturday night, a five-yarder.
The Wildcats came into this game leading the nation in fewest giveaways, with four. They uncharacteristically committed two more, a fumble and an interception, but K-State also forced two turnovers from TCU. They’re still a plus-20 in turnover margin for the season, and nothing underscores SnyderBall more than that.
In Ron Prince’s three-year coaching tenure from 2006-08, Kansas State was minus-seven in turnover margin and 3 games below .500. Since then, in Snyder’s second run at the school, Kansas State is plus-43 in turnover margin and 18 games over .500.
There is no more meaningful stat in football when it comes to winning. And winning is the only thing they’re concerned about at K-State.
“You can’t think that they’re going to make a mistake,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “That can’t be the answer.”
Patterson had so few answers that he all but conceded in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-four from the Kansas State 44, trailing 23-0, he elected to punt. Later, on a fourth down in the red zone and still trailing by 23, he kicked a field goal.
That allowed Kansas State to play with considerable caution offensively. There was no legitimate threat of losing.
“We were conservative in order to get the game over with,” Snyder said.
When the game was over with, Snyder had a microphone put in his face at midfield by a sideline reporter. Whatever she asked him caused a brief smile to crease his face, and then it was gone for good.
Snyder ambled across the field toward the visiting locker room, stopping to herd his players in that direction. He exchanged a few words with a staffer, but that was it. He hugged no one, high-fived no one, waved at no one.
Excessive celebration? There wasn’t even appropriate celebration.
Postgame, Snyder appeared at a podium with a stryofoam cup of coffee in his left hand. He offered no opening statement, just clearing his throat and saying, “OK.”
When the questions were done, Snyder ambled over to see his three grandsons, all decked out in K-State jerseys, and his daughter, Meredith. After a few minutes of conversation with the family, Snyder was gone. On to the next thing on his to-do list.
Maybe Bill Snyder allowed himself a small fist pump after settling into his assigned seat on the team plane.
But probably not.
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