OPINION: The future of K-State football — more Big 12 championships?

Fireworks mark the end of the annual Sunflower Showdown on Nov. 26. Kansas State beat the Kansas 47-27, securing K-State’s ticket to the Big 12 Championship game. (Macey Franko | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: In the print and original online edition, Bill Snyder’s name was misspelled as “Synder.” This was a mistake on our part, and the Collegian apologizes to Mr. Snyder for this error. Additionally, we later realized we made in error in how many championship games Snyder took the Wildcats to. In the print and original online edition, the article stated Snyder took the Wildcats to two championship games. This is incorrect, as Snyder took the Wildcats to three (1998, 2000, 2003). The current online edition has fixed both these errors, and the Collegian apologizes for any confusion they may have caused.

Kansas State football is playing in a conference title game for the first time in nearly two decades. It is a remarkable milestone for head coach Chris Klieman, but also sets the bar for future Wildcat teams. 

Every year from 1999 to 2020 when a Big 12 title game was played, it featured either Oklahoma or Texas. However, both will be leaving the conference for the SEC in the coming years, opening the door for programs like K-State. The Wildcats have been one of the most successful teams in the conference since its founding in 1996, ranking third in total wins — only behind Oklahoma and Texas. 

Since the two universities announced their departure from the Big 12, their dominance in the title game has ended. Last season, Oklahoma State and Baylor snapped the streak, followed by K-State and TCU this season. These are the main four teams that will look to assume the dominant roles previously held by Texas and Oklahoma. K-State might have the edge, not only because of their winning history, but also their coaching staff. 

“We get an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country,” Klieman said in his press conference on Tuesday. “We earned the opportunity to get to this point.”

Klieman, in just his fourth year as head coach, already has the Wildcats playing for a conference title. For reference, Bill Snyder, Klieman’s hall-of-fame predecessor, made three championship games in 27 years with the program. 

While this is Klieman’s first big game with K-State, he is no stranger to championship games. In his five-year tenure as head coach at North Dakota State he won four national championships. With Klieman at the helm, K-State has the opportunity to build upon this season and create a resume that includes multiple Big 12 championships. 

Offensive coordinator Collin Klein will also play a key role in sustaining conference success. Klein, in just his first season calling plays, is breaking school records — just like he did as the Wildcat’s quarterback. 

The Wildcats have totaled 375 yards or more in every Big 12 game this season — a team first. Klein has also only improved over the season, averaging 40.2 points per game over the last five contests. That average ranks first in the Big 12 and fifth in the nation among Power 5 schools. 

“When things aren’t going right I think it’s easy to get frustrated and out of rhythm and that can make things worse,” Klein said after an offensive struggle against Tulane early in the season. 

Since that point, Klein has put an emphasis on the little things successful teams do in critical situations. 

For a majority of the last five games, junior quarterback Will Howard has led the Wildcats. Given next season will be his senior year, there is still another year for Klein, Klieman and Howard to improve together. Improvement, however, won’t be easy because they’ve already set a high standard with the Big 12 Championship game.

The standard goes beyond next season as well. According to EMAW Online, the 2023 recruiting class is rated 28th in the country. This is the highest a Wildcat class has been ranked since 2008. The group is headlined by 4-star quarterback Avery Johnson, the highest rated Kansas high school player, according to 247 Sports. With this recruiting class and Johnson presumably taking the reins shortly after Howard, the opportunity exists to be highly competitive in the conference for years to come. 

While K-State hasn’t made it to Arlington for the past two decades, their drought is over, and a new drought should be out of the picture for a long time.