After putting itself in position to secure a Bowl Championship Series berth, Kansas State was snubbed in those selections, though the matchup it gained is a good one.
The Cotton Bowl managed to gain the No. 6 and 8 teams in the final BCS standings by pitting Arkansas against Kansas State on Jan. 6 in Arlington, Texas.
The matchup is the first for the Cotton Bowl between two teams ranked in the top 10 since Notre Dame and Texas A&M clashed in 1994.
"They are deserving of a BCS bowl," said Cotton Bowl chairman Tommy Bain, "and I'll be honest, we consider ourselves just like a BCS bowl. This year we'll have the No. 6 vs. the No. 8. It's the third-best matchup outside of the national championship and the Fiesta Bowl."
While there are reasons for Kansas State to be disappointed after finishing second in the Big 12, a league the computers rated as the best all season in that segment of the BCS components, no one expected the Wildcats to play in a New Year's bowl at the outset of the season. They were picked eighth in the Big 12, yet went 7-2 in league play after closing with three straight wins.
Nothing Kansas State does is fancy. In an attempt to maximize talent, and competitive balance, Snyder devised a ball-control attack. And he did so without a running back expected to carry the Wildcats. Bryce Brown, a Tennessee transfer who was the lone Kansas State player named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, left the program after playing sparingly through three games.
That left junior quarterback Collin Klein to engineer the attack. He did so with a balance of pass and run, becoming the top single-season rusher among Kansas State quarterbacks with 1,099 yards. He also rushed for 26 touchdowns, one short of the record for FBS quarterbacks, as well as the Big 12 record set by former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams of Texas.
Defensively, Kansas State needed an overhaul. It gave up more total rushing yards than any Bowl Subdivision team last year. Brown's brother, Arthur, was the primary reason behind the Wildcats' drastic improvement. He manned the middle linebacker position and led the team in tackles.
Opponents still moved the football quite well at times through the air on Kansas State, though a plus-13 turnover margin was a great equalizer. It helped account for seven victories by the Wildcats when they were outgained by opponents. Cornerback Nigel Malone, another newcomer who joined the defense as a junior college transfer, led the Big 12 with seven interceptions. Klein, meanwhile, kept mistakes to a minimum offensively, throwing just five picks.
Arkansas will pose one of the toughest challenges yet this season after climbing to third in the BCS rankings before losing at LSU. Led by quarterback Tyler Wilson, the Razorbacks are 10-2. They lead the SEC in passing offense (307.8 yards per game) and total offense (445.8), and rank second with a 37.4-point average. Arkansas won already this season at Cowboys Stadium when it defeated Texas A&M.
Players to Watch:
QB Collin Klein could be considered the most valuable player at the FBS level. He contributes on 66 percent of the plays Kansas State runs and accounts for 69 percent of its total offense. He set a Kansas State record for rushing yards (1,099) by a quarterback and needs one more rushing touchdown to tie the FBS quarterback record of 27 set in 2009 by Navy's Ricky Dobbs. Klein essentially is the Kansas State offense, yet containing him is hard because of his keen reads and the toughness he exudes as a 6-foot-5, 226-pound junior. His arm strength is limited.
CB Nigel Malone, a junior-college transfer, has an uncanny knack for breaking on the football. His seven interceptions made him the Big 12 leader and also ranked him among the top players in the league with 16 breakups. Nice addition who was not assured of a starting spot going into fall camp. Lack of size (5-10, 176) does create mismatches he fails to overcome at times when he cannot get into the right position against taller defenders.
DT Raphael Guidry is probably not the first player opponents account for within the Kansas State defense. However, his agility and quickness within the middle of the front has enabled Guidry to block four kicks, tying the Kansas State record. He also dove for an interception in the season-ending win against Iowa State. Guidry is used in a rotation within the defensive interior, where the Wildcats improved dramatically after the addition of DT Vai Lutui, a juco transfer.
Kansas State is 6-8 all-time in bowl games and carries a three-game postseason losing streak after falling to Syracuse last season in the Pinstripe Bowl. All but two of the Wildcats' bowl appearances have come under coach Bill Snyder. He stands 6-6 in bowl games.
Scouting the running game: Essentially, QB Collin Klein is the running game at times, though RB John Hubert got cranked in the season-ending win against Iowa State and contributed a game-high 120 yards. If Hubert is effective, it simplifies the obligations for Klein, who led Kansas State with 1,099 yards on the season. Klein is exceptional on zone reads, options, draws and scrambles, and is always a threat to take off, though Kansas State permitted 36 sacks, the most surrendered by a Big 12 team. If the Wildcats need a yard, expect him to get it on a sneak. Virtually no depth exists after RB Bryce Brown, a Tennessee transfer who was named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, left the program after the third game.
Scouting the passing game: The Wildcats are limited throwing the football, so much so they ranked last in the pass-happy Big 12 with a 149.8-yard average. Klein does not possess a strong arm, though he threw just five interceptions on 251 attempts. The receiving corps is average at best. WR Chris Harper adapted to the position after beginning his collegiate career as a quarterback at Oregon. The top breakaway threat is WR Tramaine Thompson, though Klein has trouble at times uncorking deep throws. The loss of WR Tyler Lockett (lacerated kidney), a promising freshman, robbed the Wildcats of another speedy threat.
Scouting the run defense: Improvement within the interior of the Kansas State defense, as well as the addition of LB Arthur Brown, a Miami transfer, helped the Wildcats climb to 39th nationally after ranking 119th last season. Brown showed the ability to cover ground with exceptional range and inspired the Wildcats' two other linebackers, Emmanuel Lamur and Tre Walker, to do the same thing. The only Big 12 back to enjoy a 100-yard game against the Wildcats was Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray. Kansas State rushers had six 100-yard performances in conference play.
Scouting the pass defense: Kansas State was incredibly suspect in this area, allowing a 63 percent completion rate, 24 passing touchdowns and a 267.3-yard average to rank 104th nationally. The Wildcats, however, took risks that occasionally paid off. CB Nigel Malone was the Big 12 leader with seven interceptions and overall the team grabbed 18 picks to rank second in the conference and help build a turnover margin of plus-13. Pressure was often inadequate. The Wildcats posted just 19 sacks.
Scouting the special teams: Under veteran coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats usually find ways to burn opponents on special teams. The Wildcats led the Big 12 with a 25.5-yard average on kickoff returns, though Lockett is out after scoring two touchdowns on runbacks. DT Raphael Guidry blocked four kicks. PK Anthony Cantele steadily improved, making 17 of 22 field goal attempts, including the longest this season by a Big 12 kicker, 54 yards. P Ryan Doerr is not spectacular, though he handled nine attempts flawlessly when the offense struggled in a win at Texas.
Intangibles: Snapping a three-game losing streak and claiming an 11th win will be the goal of the Wildcats. Truth be told, however, this team already has overachieved immensely after it was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12. Attempting to establish momentum for next season could be a goal, since the two leaders on offense and defense, QB Collin Klein and LB Arthur Brown, will be seniors who must manage higher expectations.
LB Arthur Brown played much of the Big 12 schedule with a strained knee, though the junior looked far more mobile in the Dec. 3 win against Iowa State, recording 12 tackles after having an off week to prepare.
WR Brodrick Smith started the first five games, then was withheld for undisclosed reasons until the season-ending win against Iowa State. Smith came off the bench and had one reception against the Cyclones.
QB Collin Klein missed practices leading up to wins against Texas A&M on Nov. 12 and Texas on Nov. 19. A week off prior to the Iowa State game allowed Klein to heal assorted ailments. He played with a bruised sternum he suffered in a loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 29.