The 2012 season was a special one for the Kansas State football team — the Wildcats won 10 games for the second season in a row, won the Big 12 championship for the second time in school history and at one point were ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.
A big reason for their success was redshirt senior quarterback Collin Klein. Klein played as a wide receiver and special teams player in 2009, but returned to playing quarterback full-time and backed up Carson Coffman for most of the 2010 season. Klein filled in for an injured Coffman in his first career start on Nov. 6 against Texas, and led the Wildcats to a 39-14 victory over the Longhorns. While he only threw four passes, he ran for 127 yards and scored twice in the victory.
In 2011, Coffman graduated, and Klein became the starting quarterback. Under his leadership, K-State began the season 7-0, their best start since 1999. He had a string of impressive performances while on the road, leading the Wildcats to victories over the Miami Hurricanes and the Baylor Bears the following week, led by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Klein also had stellar performances against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, putting up huge stats each game.
The Wildcats won 10 games in 2011, marking the first time the program won double-digit games in a season since the 2003 season.
Entering 2012, many wrote off the Wildcats, even with Klein and star linebacker Arthur Brown returning. Several outlets expected K-State to finish far from the top of the Big 12.
However, most outlets agreed that if Klein could improve his passing game, the Wildcats could be contenders for the Big 12 title, and Klein could be a Heisman winner.
Early in the season, Klein showed considerable improvement through the air, combining to throw 609 passing yards in three victories. In Week 4, K-State traveled to take on the No. 6 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, a place the Wildcats had not won at since 1997. While Klein’s stats weren’t spectacular, he did complete 13 of 21 passes for 149 yards in the upset. The Wildcats went on to win their next two games against in-state rival Kansas and Iowa State.
With a 6-0 record, the Wildcats entered Week 8 with a battle in Morgantown, West Virginia, against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Led by another Heisman hopeful, quarterback Geno Smith, the Mountaineers were expected to be near the top of the Big 12 in 2012. After starting 5-0, West Virginia fell the prior weekend to Texas Tech, but still entered this game as 2.5 point favorites in what was the first matchup between the two teams since 1931.
On K-State’s opening possession, Klein drove the Wildcats 41 yards in seven plays before the drive stalled, leading to Anthony Cantele’s 33-yard field goal. After a West Virginia punt, Klein led a 92-yard drive and finished it with a 10-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Tyler Lockett.
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On the next possession, Klein found the endzone himself, rushing for a 1-yard touchdown and giving the Wildcats a 17-0 lead. He scored on the next two possessions, again on the ground, giving K-State a 31-7 lead.
In the second half, Klein scored three more touchdowns, rushing for one and throwing two scores: one to Lockett and one to wide receiver Chris Harper. Klein finished the game with 323 passing yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 41 yards and four touchdowns as the Wildcats defeated the Mountaineers, 55-14, improving to 7-0 on the season.
The team continued to 10-0 before a heartbreaking loss on the road to an unranked Baylor team in November. K-State went on to defeat Texas for the Big 12 title. The Wildcat’s dream season fell in the Fiesta Bowl, where they lost to the Oregon Ducks 35-17.
Klein went on to become the first K-State quarterback since Michael Bishop in 1998 to finish in the top three in the Heisman Trophy voting. He finished third in votes behind Heisman winner Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and runner-up Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
Klein threw for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012, both career highs. He also contributed on the ground, running for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Klein entered the NFL Draft in 2013, but went undrafted before getting a rookie tryout from the Houston Texans. He was cut after the tryout and went on to the CFL before being cut in 2014.
With his playing career behind him, Klein returned to his alma mater in the fall of 2014 to become a coach where he eventually became offensive coordinator in 2022.