FORT WORTH, Texas – Just as Kansas State and TCU started popping pads at Amon G. Carter Stadium, a game being played 600 miles to the east went final.
About 6 p.m. CST, Texas A&M closed out a stunning victory over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It was one of those upsets that happen every season, an outcome that pivots college football's journey to a champion.
Irony: A Big 12 Conference expatriate has cleared the road for a Big 12 team to possibly play for the national championship.
Irony squared: Kansas State is that Big 12 team. When the BCS Standings are announced Sunday night, it's a good bet the Wildcats will move from No. 2 to No. 1. The last time K-State was in a similar situation, it had a BCS title shot ripped from its grasp in the Big 12 Championship game, losing to … Texas A&M.
The Football Gods must be crazy.
But the crazy stopped at the city limits. Kansas State posted a workmanlike 23-10 victory over TCU Saturday night. Even though the statistics displayed a total yardage edge for the Horned Frogs and the turnovers were even at two each, the superior team was obvious to anyone who was watching.
In case you think Kansas State was inspired by the Alabama outcome, think again. Coach Bill Snyder said he was told the score the game.
"I have no thoughts about it whatsoever," Snyder said, his traditional coffee in its traditional white Styrofoam cup.
"I came in the locker room and somebody told me, I was like, 'Oh, man, that's crazy,'" said Kansas State wide receiver Tramaine Thompson, who had a team-high four receptions and three punt returns for 60 yards. "Coach Snyder always tells us to ignore the noise. We're gonna hear about it, we watch TV like everybody else. We're not gonna let it change how we prepare. We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season."
Snyder's "16 Rules For Success" describe the steps and requirements for building a winning football team. None of the 16 rules deal with "ignoring the noise." Moving up to No. 1 in the BCS Standings should raise the decibel level in Manhattan. Ear plugs, Wildcats?
"That's probably a good idea," linebacker Jarrell Childs said. "Coach Snyder tells us to concentrate on getting better. We might celebrate for a little bit. The coaches tell us not to let all that stuff to get in our heads and to just worry about getting better."
Distractions grow for undefeated teams and those distractions can sometimes contribute to upsets. And those Football Gods? They can have a strange sense of humor. Sometimes when one undefeated team gets upset in the afternoon the undefeated team waiting to move up gets upset that night.
Alabama's loss opened the door for Kansas State but TCU, which had a three-game winning streak against top five teams, was primed to slam that door on the Wildcats. But in maintaining perfection, K-State (10-0, 7-0) displayed the consistent focus and tenacity that makes the Wildcats difficult to beat. On a night when the offense often sputtered, the defense produced six sacks and sidelining TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin for two series.
Exhibit A: TCU's young defense played well enough, limiting the Wildcats to two Collin Klein touchdowns. But both TDs were born from mistakes. Klein hit Chris Harper for 62 yards to set up a first quarter score. Then, with eight TCU defenders in the box, Klein weaved up the middle and to his left for a 34-yard touchdown that gave K-State a 20-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Klein kept the drive alive with his best throw of the night, a 15-yard completion to Kevin Lockett on third-and-14 when Klein avoided TCU's pass rush and pump faked three times before throwing.
That lead was more than adequate considering how the Wildcats mauled TCU's offense.
Exhibit B: On TCU's possession after Klein's second TD, Boykin completed a 17-yard pass to Skye Dawson. A replay review spotted that Dawson's knee was down and the gain was reduced to 12 yards. That started a reversal of fortune. Boykin was sacked on consecutive plays for a total loss of 27 yards and the punt on fourth-and-42 punt was shanked for eight yards.
"I'm not sure that was our best shot," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, a Kansas native and K-State graduate. "That is a team that can play for a national championship. They had a presence … You can't hope that they are going to make a mistake. That can't be the answer."
A week of mystery ended on Kansas State's first offensive possession. Klein, who missed the fourth quarter of last week's victory over Oklahoma State, started and played the entire game. His numbers were modest; it wasn't Optimus Klein. Let's just call him Touchdown Collin Football (courtesy, Carter Blackburn, ESPN announcer).
"He played reasonably well," Snyder said of Klein, who wasn't made available to the media for interviews. "He made the plays he had to make. TCU is a very fine defensive football team. You try to find ways you can move the ball. It got to a point where we were conservative to get the game over. The score dictated that."
TCU (6-4, 3-4) scored its points in the final seven minutes. The Horned Frogs' touchdown drive was set up by a Kansas State fumble, the first points the Wildcats have allowed following a turnover this season.
Kansas State also turned it over on its first possession when Klein failed to read TCU's zone blitz. Horned Frogs freshman defensive end Devonte Fields dropped into coverage and made a diving interception. TCU, though, could not capitalize and was forced to punt.
The mark of a winning team is answering/countering what the opposition produces. Kansas State has been remarkable in scoring to answer an opponent score with its own score or shutting down the enemy offense on the rare occasion the K-State offense commits a turnover.
"Games can go up and down, back and forth, it's always how you respond," Kansas State middle linebacker Arthur Brown said. "We responded well to that and got our offense back on the field. "It wasn't the prettiest game but we handled our business."
The business of reaching the national championship game continues Saturday when Kansas State plays at Baylor Saturday. As he shook hands with Snyder at game's end, Patterson had a simple message:
"Go win it all."