The “Wildcat Archives” series will take a look back at a different K-Stater every week who was part of an important time in Wildcat sports history.
In 1998, the K-State football team found itself in uncharted territory. The Wildcats were considered one of the nation’s elite teams.
K-State had seen recent success, but it still had to remind the national media on a yearly basis that it was legit. From 1994 to 1997, the Wildcats began seasons ranked about No. 20 in the nation before climbing their way up the polls.
Not in ’98.
K-State started the year ranked No. 6 in the country – higher than it ever had been ranked before. Some of the players were also gaining a lot of preseason hype. Linebackers Jeff Kelly and Mark Simoneau were both Butkus Award candidates, and quarterback Michael Bishop received attention for the Heisman Trophy.
But despite all the hoopla, the program still lacked an abundance of wins over traditional college football powerhouses.
Kevin Haskin, who covered the K-State football team for the Topeka Capita-Journal, said he remembered a Big 12 teleconference in ’98 when a reporter called in to poll the Big 12 coaches about who was the best player in the conference. Haskin said nearly every coach picked Bishop, even though Texas’ Ricky Williams was in the same conference and on pace to break the NCAA career-rushing record.
“After the stories circulated, the next day or so Texas instructed the Big 12 to come out with a release to say that the poll that was conducted was unauthorized and not coordinated by the Big 12,” Haskin said. “That was one of the more interesting developments outside the lines that season.”
Talent aside, Haskin said he thinks Williams might have been more important to his team. Coach Mack Brown was in his first year with the Longhorns, and his team finished with a 9-3 record in ’98, which was a rebuilding year by Texas’ standards.
“Williams may have been more valuable just because Texas wasn’t as loaded as K-State,” Haskin said. “The lopsided nature of K-State’s (48-7) win over Texas certainly suggests that there was a talent disparity.”
When the Longhorns arrived in Manhattan to play the No. 5 Wildcats for the third game of the season, Williams was averaging nearly 200 yards rushing per game. Against UCLA, the No. 6 team in the nation, he ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
He had no such luck against K-State. Williams finished with 43 yards on 25 carries with his longest gain of the day going for seven yards.
In the early years of the Big 12, teams preferred to run the ball mercilessly and often did not have much of a backup plan if that didn’t work. On this day, after falling behind 35-0 at halftime, Texas was forced to throw the ball 37 times, which resulted in a pair of interceptions and many incompletions.
“Some of what Kansas State did defensively affected what offenses do today with spreading out the field and taking away your ability to load the box and guard against the run,” Haskin said. “You don’t see some of the run plays that you once did in college football.”
K-State’s dominant performance was the beginning of a competitive series with one of the nation’s most storied programs. Since the inception of the Big 12, K-State holds a 3-2 record against the Longhorns.
“When Texas comes in for the first time, you know you’re part of something different,” Haskin said. “It was a big deal to beat Texas. It was a big deal just for Texas to come to K-State. I think throughout this series, Kansas State hasn’t backed down. It’s become a pretty good series.”