Friday, December 13, 2002
Pregame notebook: Big XII Championship Game
By Marc Connolly
KANSAS CITY -- Nothing against Jonathan Beasley, but oh, what could have been.
After electrifying quarterback Michael Bishop took the Kansas State football program on a wild ride for two years, Bill Snyder had a gaping hole in his offense entering the 1999 season. While he and his staff pinned their hopes and dreams on Beasley, Mike Stoops and former offensive coordinator Mike Leach were drooling over their left-handed discovery out of Snow Junior College in Utah.
It was a find completely unbeknownst to Synder.
"I didn't know who Josh Heupel was," said Snyder, flashing a rare smile. "If I didn't fire the guy who was recruiting that area, I probably should have. What a mistake that was."
Of course, Beasley went on to be more than adequate this season for the surprising 10-2 Wildcats, accounting for 24 TDs and over 2,000 yards, and is currently considered one of the top quarterbacks in college football. That doesn't mean it's not apropos for Snyder to sing the praises of Heupel, who stands in the way of K-State's possible $13.5 million BCS payday when Oklahoma and Kansas State meet on the quasi-frozen tundra of Arrowhead Stadium in the Big XII Championship Game tonight (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
Asked whether his squad's No. 1 nemesis deserving of Heisman glory in the larger Manhattan next week, Snyder all but gave Heupel his full endorsement.
"I haven't seen all the others, but I'd be hard-pressed to think that there is one out there that plays that position, in that type of offense as well as Josh Heupel," Snyder said during Friday's pregame press conference.
He compared him to a player who is close to the heart of both head coaches.
"I think the person I can equate Josh Heupel with, more than anyone, is his position coach Chuck Long," said Snyder about the quarterback he coached at the University of Iowa. "I think there are a lot of similarities between the two: very poised, very intelligent, a great understanding of the offense that they were involved in, have great touch on the ball, tremendously accurate young guys."
Braving the elements
|Jonathan Beasley had 250 yards of total offense and accounted for three TDs in the first game with OU.|
Those in and around the Fountain City rose to bright sunshine on Saturday, after Friday featured a full day of clouds, non-stop flurries and sub-freezing temperatures made worse by bitter winds. Despite the clear start, forecasters everywhere are predicting gametime conditions to be partly cloudy, with temperatures in the low 20s. The wind chill is expected to be close to zero -- quite a contrast from the 100-degree heat the Wildcats endured in their season opener at Arrowhead in August. However, K-State braved wind, sub-zero temperatures, sleet, ice chunks and other falling objects when it defeated Nebraska at home three weeks ago.
Though many have predicted such arctic conditions will favor Snyder's squad, Coach Stoops knows of one player who is all too familiar with snow football.
"Josh reminded us two days ago that they already have 20 inches of snow in Aberdeen (South Dakota)," the second-year coach said of Heupel's hometown.
Record finally in sight
At the beginning of the season, it appeared Kansas State senior David Allen would shatter the NCAA career punt return record. With 1,523 yards racked up over a brilliant three-year stint, Allen needed a mere 172 yards to overtake the career mark set by Vanderbilt's Lee Nalley in 1949.
Unfortunately, an early-season knee injury forced Allen to miss three games and parts of others. With him out of the mix, Aaron Lockett has flourished with a 21.6 average on returns, which ranks second in the nation behind André Davis of Virginia Tech (22.0). After returning 11 punts for 116 yards this season, Allen needs just 57 yards against Oklahoma to pull it off -- something he should get a chance to do in tandem with Lockett. It would be an accomplishment his special teams compatriots would share with him.
"It's a very special concept, not only for David, but for all the young people who have participated on that particular unit and David knew that very well (when he was hurt)," Snyder said. "And he wanted the opportunity to establish record-book material, not just for himself but for his teammates as well. He's back, and he's competing as well as ever. I think this ballgame is very important to him, very significant to him. Believe me, that's not first and foremost in his mind, whether or not he gets the -- whatever it is -- 54 or 55 yards that are needed. I can assure you that's not the case.
"He's a unique, young individual. He keeps things in perspective I think very, very well."
The Big O
The genius behind the bulldozer that is the Oklahoma offense has been offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, a man who spent more time on K-State's staff (eight years) than any of Bill Snyder's assistants. People around the nation have taken notice of Mangino's efforts, as he is a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.
Mangino is one of six finalists for the award, named after Arkansas athletics director and former coach Frank Broyles. Other finalists include Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, Northwestern offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Oregon State offensive line coach Gregg Smith, TCU defensive coordinator Gary Patterson and South Carolina defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. The award will be presented on Dec. 13.
"The situation we're in and what he's done with our offense, he's deserving," Stoops said. "He's an excellent person, a great leader. He's done a great job with the development of our running game and with our offense."
The Boys of Autumn
What would a stop-everything college football game be without the ubiquitous presence of Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Chris Fowler? They broadcasted ESPN's College GameDay live from Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday morning from parking lot D, located near the stadium's southeast corner.
The popular threesome were present at Oklahoma's 41-31 victory in Manhattan six weeks ago, and have aired from the site of an Oklahoma game three other times: Oct. 28 against Nebraska in Norman and Nov. 11 at Texas A&M.
A bronzed God
Keep an eye out for Mr. Heisman tonight. And we're not talking about Josh Heupel. In an effort to add some hype to next Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City, the Downtown Athletic Club sent the coveted trophy via courier to the hotel of ABC Sports Thursday night. The trophy will be tucked away safely until it graces the sideline next to the Sears Trophy, the Big XII trophy and Lynn Swann during the game.
Not in Kansas anymore
Though it's only a two-hour eastward jaunt on I-70, Kansas State will officially be the visitor and wear its road whites. K-State will dress in the visiting locker room at Arrowhead. The Wildcats used the home locker room during the Eddie Robinson Classic.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.