College FB Focus
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ Nobody accused Bill Snyder of failing to grasp the magnitude of his challenge.
″This would be the biggest turnaround in the history of college football,″ Kansas State’s 30th head coach said.
Everyone nodded yes, it would be.
Now, with excitement growing week by week, they’re starting to think maybe - just maybe - it is.
Five games into Snyder’s fifth season, the Wildcats are 5-0. People have quit calling them Mildcats. Students no longer take a paint brush to the highway sign outside of town and beneath ″Interstate 70,″ write ″Kansas State 0.″
Bowl guys in colorful blazers, the kind K-Staters once saw only on the road, are finding their seats in the Big Eight’s finest new state-of-the-art pressbox. Millions of dollars worth of new practice and weight rooms have transformed Kansas State’s facilities from the very worst to among the best.
Long-suffering fans who poured onto the field after beating Kansas last week had more reason for joy than anyone at the losingest program in the history of major college football could recall.
Possibly the best K-State team ever, trained in their finest facilities ever, led by what almost everybody regards as their greatest coach ever, had just beaten their snooty arch-rivals in front of their biggest crowd ever.
Even the normally dour Snyder wore a big, wide grin.
″I’m just happy for these kids,″ he said. ″It’s a real tribute to how hard they’ve worked.″
It’s not as though the Wildcats have been slugging it out with Miami and Florida State. Besides Kansas, their most notable victim was Minnesota, which became the first non-Big Eight team since 1979 to lose to K-State at home.
For that reason, the Wildcats barely failed to crack The Associated Press poll for the first time in 23 years. Their sternest test will come this week at No. 6 Nebraska, where they are still four-touchdown underdogs.
″If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we feel we can play with anybody,″ senior safety Jaime Mendez said. ″We’re not a Kansas State team of the past.″
In making the biggest turnaround ever, the Wildcats are finding the toughest obstacle of all is escaping their sordid, laughable past.
Nobody knows why fate picked this proud land grant institution in central Kansas to be the all-time college football loser.
But heading into the 1992 season, their 317-535-41 record translated into a winning percentage of .378, the only sub-.400 among 106 Division I-A programs.
Wake Forest (.407) had just seven more wins, but 56 fewer losses. Northwestern (.422) had only 21 fewer losses but 52 more victories.
By going on NCAA probation several times, the Wildcats have given new meaning to the cry, ″cheaters never win.″
Heavy penalties were levied in 1978 when it was discovered that through a bookkeeping scam, Kansas State the previous three years had stashed away almost 30 players over NCAA scholarship limits - what amounted to an entire illegal extra senior class.
Yet, in that same span, even with all those illegal players, they had gone 0-21 in the Big Eight.
Now, with every victory, they seem to break new barriers.
Since Snyder was hired off Hayden Fry’s Iowa staff in 1989, they have broken a 30-game winless streak; a 16-game losing streak; a 30-game road losing streak; a 22-game Big Eight road losing streak; a 27-game Big Eight winless streak and an 18-game non-conference road losing streak.
Their 5-0 start is their first in 63 years. Their 10 straight home wins match a school record last accomplished in 1910.
Such media notables as the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post have been in Manhattan documenting the Wildcats’ remarkable rise.
But like the wild postgame celebration following the Kansas victory, the same old story is wearing thin with players and coaches.
″I know it’s all in good fun, but in a way it demoralizes us,″ offensive tackle Jim Hmielewski said. ″We’re expecting to win.″