From where Kansas State was, on the landscape of football mediocrity to where they are now, you might say it was a miracle in the making. Coach Bill Snyder did what nobody thought could be done and took a program from the depths of misery to the heights of beating teams that had been pasting them for years, becoming a nationally recognized power and climbing the ladder ever so close to attaining some of that coveted hardware.
This up-coming game of Nebraska vs Kansas State offers some of the usual drama. No, there's no national title hanging in the balance, but it's a division face-off, at least one team that is ranked fairly high and of course, anytime a team faces Nebraska, it's apparently a focal point of their season.
It certainly is for Kansas State.
As the years have gone on, the Big 8/Big XII was traditionally two teams, Oklahoma and Nebraska. It was between them to decide not only the yearly conference title, but in a lot of cases, who went for a national title come January. There were brief respites from this monotony from teams like Colorado, Missouri and if just for a moment, Oklahoma State, but that's about it.
Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State were the perennial doormats, except for brief flashes that just as quickly faded into darkness.
Times have changed.
In ‘95, Kansas and Kansas State both joined the class of the elite, finishing in the top ten. The conference actually had four teams in the top ten. And, who was at the top? Nebraska.
Well, Kansas quickly went back to their old ways, but Kansas State stayed in there. With their bevy of non-conference tomato can opponents, Kansas State assured themselves a decent record going into conference play and with quality in-conference wins, things were getting better, recruiting was looking up.
They were starting to build a tradition.
Coach Snyder had built one good team after another and even at one point, a seemingly great team, but always, did real hardware avoid the grasp of Wildcats' coaches, players and fans alike.
They didn't win a national title and couldn't even manage a conference title, when they were seemingly at their best. Actually, Kansas may now be again a doormat in the conference, but at least throughout the history of all the conferences that have evolved into this one, they have won a few times here and there, while KSU has won exactly once, a "Big Six" title back in 1934.
This game isn't about history though, it's about the future and it's about what the word "rival" really means.
Nebraska has struggled all year long. When they have lost on the road, it's been to ranked teams, but this team hasn't been your typical Nebraska squad. Though they have fought hard, played hard and have gotten better as the year has gone along, it's clear that NU is maybe one or two years away from being back to where they were. This game could go a long ways into securing that trip.
And Kansas State?
They came off a sub-par year considering their recent records and this season has been a valiant attempt to get back. Typical to a Nebraska offense, they have won with a great running game, an efficient if not excellent passing game and a trademark, tough defensive unit. This game will go a long ways into making sure that comeback isn't a mirage.
Make no mistake about it, this game is important to both, but for vastly different reasons.
For Nebraska, it's a possible win over a ranked team in the road, something they haven't done all year. It's a way to cement the confidence built from a victory in College Station over the Texas A&M Aggies. A team that just got done beating number one ranked Oklahoma in the same place.
It's also a chance for Nebraska to work one more way to a little bit better bowl. Nobody likes playing on a blue field, do they?
For Kansas State though, this game has it's usual double-meaning. Yes, it's to maintain or even raise their national ranking and yes, it's for a win in their conference in their division. But, that's not the most important thing about this game.
It would be a win over Nebraska.
Long has Snyder pointed at this game as key for their seasons. Regardless of other victories against other teams, this one always seems to find it's way to the top of Snyder's wish list every year.
Ala, Bill McCartney, but certainly in a different manner, Snyder has turned this game into what has become known down in Manhattan as another epic in a definite "rivalry".
A rivalry? Give me a break.
You want to know what "rival" means? It means this: "One that equals or almost equals another in a particular respect." I suppose if you would downgrade the meaning to indicate a single year, yeah, Kansas State is a rival, but that's not how college football defines what a rival is.
A rival is a team that has won more than 12 games in series that dates back to 1911. A rival is a team that has not only stopped that particular team from winning titles, but won some of their own. Whether it be conference titles, division titles or national titles, each has it's own substance as to why this game meant anything at all.
If you want real substance as to where this game stands, take a look at this stat:
In order for Kansas State to become a .500 team over their history, they would have to go undefeated in a twelve-game season for the next 12 years.
In order for Nebraska to become a .500 team over their history, they would have to lose every single game in a twelve game season for the next 44.
Ell Roberson was recently quoted as saying, "Nebraska is trying to get where we are at now." Probably an accurate statement if you look at the records and national standing this year. But, how it rings so much like deja vu to Husker fans as this is what they have been saying about KSU for the last , well, it's been for a very long time.
Kansas State talks about this game as a another chance to beat Nebraska. Nebraska talks about this game as a chance to beat a quality team on the road. Kansas State talks about this game as it's always good when you get a win over the Huskers. Nebraska talks about this as another chance to reaffirm their road win at Texas A&M.
I don't know about you, but when I hear people talk about games that are indeed rivalries, those teams at least use the other team's name. It's Army/Navy, it's Auburn/Georgia and it's a game like Texas/Oklahoma. But, Nebraska/Kansas State? Give me a break.
This weekend's game will be one that is certainly hotly contested. It will be one of two similar teams trying to control the line of scrimmage in what should be an old-fashioned "smashmouth" affair. It should be a good game. Hell, it might even be a great game and the winner will come out feeling a little bit better about this year and the year to come.
But, this is another game for Nebraska and that's what it is. For Snyder and his group, it's another shot at the Huskers.
It's a rivalry all right, at least for one team. In about twenty years, maybe it will be for the other.
But, what do I know. Kansas State has always been good.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619