The BCS standings, the coaches and other polls; they’re all just a popularity contest, often decided on style and the legendary status of a program instead of what it actually does on the football field, and that is why Kansas State have always been denied playing in a BCS Bowl as an at-large team.
Since the beginning of the BCS in 1998, Kansas State have had six seasons with at least ten wins, all of them under Bill Snyder, who left the program for 3 seasons between 2005 and 2009. His replacement, Ron Prince, finished with a 17-20 record, making only one bowl appearance.
The problem for Kansas State is that it just isn’t a fashionable team, despite their relative success over the past decade and change under Snyder. One of the most consistent Big 12 programs just gets glanced over by the Bowl committees when they have an option of selecting them. There’s no rich history like with other schools, no matter how good they were during the season, and their style of play, which is usually about a solid running game and solid defense just doesn’t make that kind of impression. There’s also the size of the fan base – playing in a 52,000 stadium instead of a monster that’s bigger than many towns and having a nationwide appeal.
This year, it’s going to be hard to ignore. In 2003, they won the Big 12 conference, so they had to be invited to the Fiesta Bowl, where they lost 35-28 to the Ohio State Buckeyes. But on 5 other instances, in which Kansas State were eligible as one of the at-large teams, they’ve always been looked over.
After the 1998 season, which saw them finish with an 11-1 record and lose in the conference championship to Texas A&M. They were ranked #3 in the BCS, and still got passed over for Ohio State and Florida. They went on to play in the Alamo Bowl and lose to Purdue.
In the 1999 season, KSU finished with a 10-1 record and were ranked #6 in the BCS. Once again, they got ignored by the big bowls, getting invited to the Holiday Bowl and won against Washington.
In 2000, same thing happens, although they were #9 on the BCS standings so their chance was smaller of getting the call. They finished with an 10-3 record, losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game and then going on to play Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl, beating the Vols 35-21.
In 2002, Kansas State were once again having a great year, finishing with an 10-2 record but not playing in the conference championship game. They had a #8 BCS rankings, which wasn’t enough to get them into a BCS bowl, with the Orange Bowl selecting USC instead of teams ranked higher. Snyder and the Wildcats played in the Holiday Bowl, beating Arizona State 34-27.
Then there was a long, dark period for the program, until Snyder’s return in 2009. In 2011, things were back to normal. Kansas State had a #8 ranking after a 10-2 regular season. The Sugar Bowl preferred #13 Michigan and #11 Virginia Tech to play for them instead. Kansas State went on to play Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, losing 16-29.
It’s going to be interesting this season. There’s a good chance the Wildcats win the Big 12, and then there’s going to be an argument about who plays Alabama in the national title game – KSU, Oregon or Notre Dame, assuming they all finish undefeated, and that Alabama, not Florida, comes out of the SEC.