- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, we’ve been running dream and nightmare scenarios for teams in the Big 12. In other words, what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And conversely, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.
Next up in the best- and worst-case scenario series: the Kansas State Wildcats:
From Michael Bishop to Darren Sproles, there have been some phenomenal playmakers in the Bill Snyder era. But Tyler Lockett becomes the greatest of them all, stringing together a series of games for the ages. Lockett warms up with two touchdown catches in an easy win in Farmageddon. Then, with a Thursday night national ESPN audience tuning in, Lockett crushes Auburn with more than 300 yards receiving, three touchdown catches and a kickoff return touchdown as K-State takes down the defending SEC champs to land the Big 12 its fist marquee victory of the playoff era.
The rest of the offense rounds into form, too. Jake Waters builds off his strong close to last season and comes out even sharper in 2014. He throws just five interceptions all season and fulfills his No. 1 obligation, which is putting the ball on the money to Lockett. True freshman Dalvin Warmack continues the K-State tradition of prolific diminutive rushers, and he quickly takes over as the Wildcats’ featured running back. BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair produce first-team All-Big 12 seasons up front, and juco transfer Andre Davis finally emerges in October as a competent complement at receiver opposite Lockett.
Defensively, Dante Barnett picks up where Ty Zimmerman left off. Ryan Mueller leads the nation with 18 sacks. Travis Britz plugs the middle. And coveted juco transfers D’Vonta Derricott and Terrell Clinkscales lived up to the hype and solidify the rest of the front seven.
On Oct. 18, the 5-0 Powercats head south and knock off Oklahoma in Norman for the second straight time to jump into the top 10 of the polls. The Lockett-train keeps rolling the following week, as he hauls in another three touchdowns in K-State’s 28-point plastering of Texas.
The Powercats take an 11-0 record into the regular-season finale. And this time they don’t falter in Waco, as K-State avenges the loss two years ago with a 44-41 victory over Baylor in a showdown that decides the Big 12 championship.
Still, all good things must come to an end, and the magic runs out in the first round of the inaugural playoff, as K-State can’t pull off the Yellowhammer sweep with a heartbreaking defeat to Alabama.
With 19 touchdowns, Lockett places third in the Heisman voting. Snyder signs the nation’s five-best juco recruits. Daniel Sams quarterbacks McNeese State to an upset of Nebraska in the opener. Kansas basketball gets bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament.
K-State can’t harness the momentum that it finished with last fall and opens the season sloppy again. Waters starts throwing interceptions, and with no Sams to turn to for a spark, the Wildcats lose in Farmageddon for just the first time since 2007. The Thursday night clash with Auburn offers an opportunity to get the season back on the track. But K-State is never in the game, and with no other receiver commanding attention, the Tigers limit Lockett to just two catches.
As a freshman, Warmack isn’t ready yet, and the rushing attack turns out to be a disaster. After Finney and Whitehair, the offensive line has three gaping holes. Derricott and Clinkscales fail to break into the starting lineup, and the Wildcats desperately miss Zimmerman’s calming presence at the back end.
After falling to Texas Tech and Oklahoma back-to-back, the Wildcats get off to another 2-4 start. But this time, they can’t rally the rest of the way. Texas overpowers the Wildcats with 300 yards on the ground, and two weeks later, TCU’s powerful defense shuts them out in Fort Worth.
The Wildcats hobble into Waco needing a win to become bowl-eligible. Instead, they end the season with a 40-point humiliation.
Snyder decides he’s done with coaching and retires. The Wildcats don’t sign a single top 50-juco player. Nebraska makes the playoffs. Kansas basketball goes back to the Final Four.
June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State
June 18: Kansas