In five years, Ryan Mueller has lost more than a dozen games in a K-State uniform. Only a few stack up to the disappointment from two years ago in Waco, Texas.
The loss, of course, was a 52-24 drubbing by Baylor that cost the Wildcats a potential national championship bid and a spotless 10-0 record. K-State had climbed to No. 1 in the nation prior to the matchup.
“That was definitely one of the most painful losses I’ve ever suffered here, just because it had national championship implications,” Mueller said recently. “I remember that game like it was yesterday, we went in there thinking we were going to win it and nothing went our way. It was weird. It was a weird environment.”
Two years later, the No. 9 Wildcats (9-2, 7-1) head to Waco to battle the No. 5 Bears (10-1, 7-1) in similar fashion, with a Big 12 title on the line.
At the team’s weekly press conference on Tuesday, several K-State players took time to recollect memories from that loss. Their words were evidence that the hurt from that game was still present.
“I remember looking around and coach Snyder looking in our eyes,” junior defensive back, Morgan Burns, said. “He wasn’t really mad at us, he just saw that there was a lot of emotion and that we truly cared and were really upset — that was really important to him. I remember Ryan Mueller truly being emotional, there were tears after that game. Once you put so much time and effort into a season — preparation and practice all year around — it’s hard when you lose something like that, when your goals are right in front of you and they fall.”
This year, there is at least a share of the Big 12 Conference Championship on the line, if not more. It is surprising, then, to hear that avenging the 2012 loss isn’t on many — if any — of the players’ minds.
“Not too many guys have really brought up that game, or brought up two years ago,” Burns said. “Right now we’re focused on winning the Big 12. I’m really surprised they haven’t brought it up, because being down there I remember that game and it was a hard loss — we had a lot on the line.”
Part of that exists because of the K-State mentality of treating each and every game like the last in terms of importance and preparation. The other is the fact that the Wildcats have lost the last two meetings against Baylor, and the previous three in Waco.
“We lost to them last year too,” senior linebacker, Jonathan Truman, said. “A lot of people talk about the 2012 loss, but I’m not thinking about it too much. I’m focused on this team right now and we’re excited to go play.”
If there’s a third reason, it’s the differences between that year and this one. At the time of the loss in 2012, Baylor was unranked at 5-5 and 2-5 in the Big 12. It was also led by first-and-only-year quarterback Nick Florence.
Meanwhile, K-State was unbeaten and led by a host of upperclassmen, including Heisman finalist quarterback Collin Klein.
The scenery has changed as well. Baylor has moved out of Floyd Casey Stadium and into McLane Stadium, which has been loud and intimate in 2014.
“It’s going to be a different environment,” Mueller said. “We know what they’re capable of, they know what we’re capable of. It’s just going to come down to who’s going to prepare better and play better. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”
To those who were on that team in 2012 and to those who only recently joined the program, Saturday is an opportunity to ease the pain of one loss and to celebrate another with a third, Big 12 title.
“That’s just a loss that has left an indelible mark on me,” Mueller said. “A lot of the seniors around here — Jonathan Truman, Tyler Lockett — we weren’t seniors, leaders on that team. I can only imagine how the upperclassmen of that year felt, because I felt it and I only played about 25 snaps in that game. That’s a game that cost us a lot, and we have a chance to kind of erase it and end on a positive note.”