If there were an award in big 12 football for comeback team of the year, Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats would walk away with the honor uncontested this past season.
For a team that barely turned in a winning season a year earlier, with a 7-6 overall record and only 3-5 in Big 12 play, and was picked by conference coaches in the 2011 preseason only to finish eighth in the conference this time around, there's no other way to describe the Wildcats' 2011 season than in-your-face fabulous.
Although the Wildcats' 2011 season ended in a tough loss to Arkansas, the fifth-ranked team in the BCS standings, in the Cotton Bowl, they still produced 10 wins on the season against only two other defeats (both in the Big 12, to Oklahoma and conference champion Oklahoma State). And the outlook is for Kansas State, with many key players returning, including quarterback Collin Klein, wide-receiver/kick-returner Tyler Lockett and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, linebacker Arthur Brown, to be right there with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and new member TCU battling for the conference crown next fall.
The start of the Cotton Bowl game might have been Kansas State's poorest start of any game this season. Whether it was the month-long layoff since the last game of the regular season or an extra shot of big-game adrenalin that got to Snyder's squad will never be known, but it was an ugly start for the Cats that couldn't ever really recover from. "We go off to an awfully bad start, and couldn't overcome the damage we did," Snyder said. "And most of it was pretty obvious."
It's too bad that the Cotton Bowl is not considered one of the four Bowl Champion Series bowls, because the matchup between eighth-ranked K-State and Arkansas certainly was deserving of a BCS bowl and easily was better than either the Orange or Sugar Bowl teams this year.
If the mark of a championship-quality team is one that finds ways to win in close games or in games in which you have to come from behind to win, no team lived up to that more in 2011 than Kansas State. In eight of its ten wins, the margin of victory for the team from the Little Apple was seven points or less, and three wins were by less than four points.
The Big 12 completed its bowl season, winning six of the eight games in which a team from the conference participated. And if you were to count the victories by TCU, in the Poinsettia Bowl, and West Virginia, over Clemson in the BCS Orange Bowl, the Big 12 bowl record would have been a very impressive 8-2. Although you could do that same thing with the SEC. Adding in the bowl wins by Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC would have been 7-2 for its nine bowl games.
As it was, the .750 winning percentage in 2011-12 bowl games was the best in Big 12 history. The conference's best bowl record previously was 5-3, which was accomplished three times (2002-03; 2005-06, the year Texas defeated USC for the national championship; and 2007-08).
Here is a brief recap of the Big 12's postseason bowl results:
Independence Bowl: Missouri 41, North Carolina (ACC) 24
Holiday Bowl: Texas 21, California (Pac-12) 10
Alamo Bowl: Baylor 67, Washington (Pac-12) 56
Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (Big East) 27, Iowa State 13
Insight Bowl: Oklahoma 31, Iowa (Big Ten) 14
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Texas A&M 33, Northwestern (Big Ten) 22
BCS Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State 41, Stanford (Pac-12) 28 (OT)
Cotton Bowl: Arkansas (SEC) 29, Kansas State 16
Big 12 2011-12 Bowl Record By Conference
Vs. Pac-12: 3-0
Vs. Big Ten: 2-0
Vs. ACC: 1-0
Vs. Big East: 0-1
Vs. SEC: 0-1
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website