Big win has K-State thinking Big Bowl

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Snyder doesn't deal in the hypothetical very often, if ever.

What is, is. Preparation and hard work fuel success. Not the catchiest of catch phrases, but it's worked OK for more than a couple of decades for a man who just might be the greatest coach in college football history (and is certainly its most underappreciated).

Get better every day. That's what Snyder asks his players to do.

This year, it's exactly what the Wildcats have done, and that improvement was on display in Saturday's 55-14 laugher in Morgantown, where Kansas State embarrassed yet another team picked to finish ahead of it in the Big 12 preseason poll.

"We've found a level a consistency that was good and that we want to see, but there's still things we can't have," quarterback Collin Klein said, citing a failure to score a touchdown on the game's opening drive, when K-State settled for three points.

Never mind that it scored touchdowns on its next seven drives, while Klein passed his opponent, Geno Smith, as the Heisman Trophy front-runner in the process.

"They kicked our butts," Smith said, adding that he'd never faced "adversity of this magnitude" after a pair of blowout losses to Kansas State and Texas Tech.

Klein led the way with a career-high seven touchdowns and 323 passing yards, scoring four times on the ground and throwing three touchdowns to just two incompletions on 21 attempts. He was slinging it well enough to lead Chris Harper to start calling his quarterback "John" late in the game.

As in Elway. We'll see about that, but the defense played as big a part as any in the 41-point beatdown.

The Wildcats picked Smith off twice Saturday, twice more than all six teams the Mountaineers had previously faced this season. The defense held him to 143 yards on 21-of-32 passing, his lowest total under coach Dana Holgorsen.

Hold a mirror up to these Wildcats and you'll see Snyder, who had a lengthy face-to-face visit on the field to encourage Smith after the game, and left the gridiron to chants of his own name yet again from a visitors section packed with purple.

His 16 goals? His demands for one thing above all -- to improve each day? Kansas State has followed the path this season, and that daily improvement has it in position to make a run at the BCS title game. It's beaten the two teams most likely to beat out the Cats for a Big 12 title, and did so on the road as an underdog.

"We are just what we are," Snyder said, again wearing his commemorative windbreaker jacket from last year's Cotton Bowl, again sipping on some coffee with cream and sugar while fielding postgame questions. "I believe our players embrace those values. ... They're the same values you've taught your son or your daughter."

The win over Oklahoma looks better by the day -- the Sooners have beaten their last three opponents by 21, 42 and 45 since -- and the SnyderCats are the lone undefeated Big 12 team standing.

Alabama and Florida stand above the Cats and are on a crash course to meet in the SEC title game. Oregon (maybe) sits above the Wildcats at No. 3.

Still, if Kansas State keeps winning, the cards are likely in place to finally give Snyder a shot at the national title that eluded him back in 1998, thanks to an upset loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game. Any talk about that, though, wouldn't be Kansas State's style.

One game at a time. Better every day.

"One of those [16 goals] is no self-limitations," Snyder said. "However good we may or may not have been today, tomorrow, there isn't any reason why you can't be better."

When you've gotten as good as Kansas State has, there's plenty of time to relax. After picking Smith off twice, Snyder joked on the sidelines that the Wildcats would stop the game and hold a pep rally if they picked him off a third time. That didn't happen, but Snyder's feeling a lot looser these days now that he's cleaned up the mess his successor/predecessor, Ron Prince, left behind.

"He's a lot looser than when he first got here, but we sucked when he first got here, so I would be mad, too. We've gotten way better, 20,000 times better," Harper said.

Harper saw that turnaround in Year 2, when the Wildcats jumped from 7-6 to 10-3, losing one of those games by just seven points on the road to Big 12 champion Oklahoma State -- and with a few more seconds, Kansas State might have escaped with a win.

"We understood that what we were doing," Harper said. "It worked."

It always has for Snyder. Will it work better than ever, and keep a healthy zero in the loss column through December?

By now, it's getting harder and harder to bet no.