It’s not exactly another Manhattan miracle.
But here comes Kansas State coach Bill Snyder with yet another reclamation project.
The Wildcats opened the season with a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State before going 0-3 to begin the Big 12.
Since then, Kansas State has emerged into one of the hotter teams in college football, winning three straight by an average margin of almost four touchdowns.
“The environment we try to create is that incremental improvement throughout the course of the year, regardless of what the outcome of the ballgames happen to be,” Snyder said. “It’s a very positive thing to see young guys overcome disappointment of ballgames they had opportunities to be successful at and weren’t. It’s the old never-give-up type of attitude. But that’s not anything I would not have expected from the young guys in our program.”
The young guys in Snyder's program just keep getting better.
Last weekend, the Wildcats demolished then-No. 25 Texas Tech in Lubbock. K-State scored touchdowns on its first five possessions to jump to a 35-10 lead, before coasting to the 49-26 victory.
“The momentum is high,” said linebacker Jonathan Truman. “We had some bumps in the road at the beginning of the year. But I feel we’ve recovered, and we’ve been taking steps in the right direction to get better.”
Thanks to those steps, the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) are now just one win away from becoming bowl eligible heading into this weekend’s matchup with TCU. However, they have goals bigger than just getting to a bowl.
"We wanna win out and finish the season strong," said safety Dante Barnett.
The way the Wildcats have been playing lately, that’s not so lofty a goal.
“As usual, Coach Snyder’s team has grown in confidence,” said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson. “There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”
A month ago, it was unclear whether the defending Big 12 champs would even make a bowl.
In a disastrous opener, K-State surrendered an 18-play, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to North Dakota State, which knocked off the Wildcats with a touchdown plunge in the final seconds.
The season didn’t get any better in Big 12 play, as K-State it dropped games at Texas and Oklahoma State, before coming up short at home against Baylor.
But the loss to the Bears proved to be a turning point. Without starting wideouts Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, K-State had little in the passing game. But quarterback Daniel Sams led a monster performance on the ground with 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and the Wildcats had the ball with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
“Even though it was a loss, it showed what we were capable of,” said center B.J. Finney. “It wasn’t a perfect game. But we realized if we didn’t beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties, we could play with anybody.”
K-State has been a different team ever since.
With Lockett and Thompson back in the lineup, the Wildcats exploded in the fourth quarter to hammer West Virginia, 35-12, on Oct. 26. K-State then destroyed Iowa State 41-7 before handling the Red Raiders last week.
As usual, Coach [Bill] Snyder’s team has grown in confidence. There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”
”-- TCU coach Gary Patterson
During its three-game winning streak, the K-State offense has been a model of efficiency.
From the third quarter of the West Virginia game to halftime at Texas Tech, the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 14 of 22 possessions, not counting kneel downs.
Not only has it been efficient, the offense has been remarkably balanced, too. In the past three games, the Wildcats have averaged 198 yards through the air and 225 on the ground.
At the foundation of the Wildcats' offensive surge has been their success in utilizing a two-quarterback system. Sams and Jake Waters, who think of themselves as tag-team wrestlers playing quarterback, have been lethal of late.
Since the Baylor game, they’ve completed 73 percent of their passes with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Last week against Tech, they produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs for the week (98.4 and 94.9).
“I’ve never been a big fan attempting to utilize two quarterbacks on a somewhat equal basis,” Snyder said. “But I think Daniel and Jake have really embraced each other. Really helped each other. Really encouraged each other. They’re both also well received by their teammates. Their teammates pull for each of them, and [they] have been very comfortable with either one.”
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ryan Mueller has set the tone both in practice and in games. He has also surfaced as a viable Big 12 defensive-player-of-the-year candidate, leading the conference with eight sacks, including four in the past two weeks.
“He practices how he plays,” linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said of Mueller.
True to the Snyder blueprint for success, the Wildcats are limiting penalties and turnovers, too. They now lead the Big 12 in fewest penalties committed and fewest penalty yardage.
And since turning the ball over five times in a 33-29 loss at Oklahoma State, the Wildcats have given up the ball just four times in four games.
“We went back and looked at the past successes of this program and focused on eliminating the little things that had been beating us,” Lockett said. “Coach Snyder kept telling us, if we kept working in practice, it was gonna pay off one day.”
“Well, it’s paying off.”