LM Otero/Associated Press file photo
LM Otero/Associated Press file photo
MANHATTAN, Kan. – It’s hard for anybody to drop into Manhattan, Kan.
The home of seventh-ranked Kansas State is tucked in a quiet valley out in the Flint Hills, surrounded by tallgrass prairie.
There’re a few flights into the airport but not many.
Most of the people who live in the small college town are affiliated with the university in some way.
It’s the perfect place to convalesce after a monumental disappointment.
The Wildcats were barreling toward the national championship game when they headed to Baylor last week with a quarterback in Collin Klein who was leading the race for the Heisman Trophy.
It all came undone in 60 short minutes.
The Bears found a way to force the steady Klein into throwing three interceptions, more than he’d thrown all season. They shut down his running ability, along with backfield mate John Hubert, and then ripped apart a defense that had been among the best in the Big 12.
By the time the carnage had ended, the Bears were celebrating a 52-24 victory every bit as lopsided as the score, and the Wildcats were heading home to lick their wounds.
And with a week off before playing No. 18 Texas, there’s a lot of time for licking.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “The time is needed from a rest standpoint for our players. Maybe it would have been better to have it a little sooner than this, but that is hindsight. The other side of the coin is you have to let this fester for that period of time. That can be good or bad. It depends on how they respond to it.”
Truth be told, the Wildcats still have plenty to play for.
They can ensure only their second Big 12 championship by beating the Longhorns in the finale Dec. 1, and also punch their ticket to a BCS bowl game, even if it’s not the title game.
Even that’s not entirely out of the picture.
The Wildcats (10-1, 7-1) will be big fans of USC, Florida State and Oregon State on Saturday.
The Trojans need to beat No. 1 Notre Dame, the Seminoles have to top sixth-ranked Florida, and the Beavers have to deal No. 5 Oregon its second consecutive defeat for Kansas State to have any chance of slipping back into the top two spots in the BCS standings.
That’s a lot to ask, of course. The Wildcats know it.
But they also know that far stranger things have happened – like going to Waco, Texas, and getting pasted by a Baylor team whose only previous Big 12 win came against lowly Kansas.
“It was something that we knew we were going to have to face,” Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown said. “The day after the loss was probably the worst, but we have to accept it.”
Snyder certainly has gone through this drill before.
The Wildcats were all-but-assured of a spot in the 1998 national championship game when they led in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game.
The Aggies rallied to tie the game, and Sirr Parker etched his name in history with the winning score in double overtime.
Kansas State retreated to its leafy Kansas in Manhattan to recover, but it never happened, especially after a quirk in the bowl system resulted in the Wildcats falling to the Alamo Bowl.
They wound up losing to Purdue and quarterback Drew Brees in a close game.
“I would say that we’ve gotten past the sad stage and more into the mad stage,” tight end Travis Tannahill said. “There is nothing you can do about it now.”
Even Snyder, who always is measured away from the sideline, admitted to feeling some anger.
“And I would have our players and coaches follow suit,” he said.
“Heartbreaking does not even describe it, but at the same time, we just have to make sure that we do not let Baylor beat us twice,” said Klein, a former Colorado prep football and basketball star at Loveland.
“We have to go back to what we know, and that is just trying to be the best we can be, contribute in helping each other and being a good teammate. We just cannot waste any days.”
The team practiced Wednesday before breaking for Thanksgiving. Players will return to Manhattan in time for meetings Sunday, and the preparation begins for Texas.
The Wildcats will know by then exactly what’s at stake against the Longhorns.
“This is a special group. It’s a group that has been through a lot through our time here,” Klein said. “It’s a group that we truly care about each other in a pretty special way, as brothers would or family members would. We are still having fun, and that is important.”
Christopher Jackson/Associated Press file photo