IRVING, Texas — Collin Klein comparisons inevitably end up at Eric Crouch and Tim Tebow.
Both were elite college quarterbacks in running systems — Crouch at Nebraska and Tebow at Florida — and both won the Heisman Trophy.
For Klein, a K-State junior coming off a memorable regular season in which he threw for 1,745 yards, rushed for 1,099 yards, scored 38 touchdowns and helped the Wildcats win 10 games, that's good company to keep. He doesn't mind the comparisons.
But he hasn't been able to cash in on the award circuit the way those two did. When it came time for media members that cover the Big 12 to select an all-conference team, he received an honor usually reserved for kick returners — all- purpose player.
What does that say about Klein? Everything.
"I think it's pretty obvious that is appropriate for him," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "He's an awful lot of things. He's been very instrumental to whatever degree of success we have had this season.
"He maybe doesn't fit every category, but certainly fits an all-purpose category. He's a youngster that is deserving of an honor. As you see across the nation in terms of national media, there's been recognition virtually the same way and you're not sure exactly what category to put him in. But they found one and he was honored for it."
Still, it was a strange result for a quarterback considered to be one of the most valuable players in the Big 12.
"Who knows what the reason behind it was?" Klein said during a Cotton Bowl news conference Tuesday. "I was just honored that they thought of me."
Some see the recognition as a sign of changing times. Ten years ago, Klein's numbers would have been considered some of the best around and he would have gone to New York as a Heisman finalist last month. But in the age of spread offenses and 4,000-yard passers, they seem second-tier. It's tough being a running quarterback in a thrower's era.
Others see it as a sign of disrespect. The Wildcats entered the season picked to finish eighth, and were underdogs in most of their games. Perhaps Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden earning Big 12 all- conference honors at quarterback over Klein indicates runners are still overlooked today.
Or maybe it just means the Big 12 is loaded with top-notch quarterbacks. Oklahoma's Landry Jones was snubbed despite being the nation's third-leading passer.
Whatever the case, Klein's lack of mainstream awards describes a lot about his game.
He is not the most physically gifted quarterback in the Big 12, and nothing he does within K-State's offense comes easy. He was lightly recruited as a home-schooled quarterback growing up in Loveland, Colo., and his commitment to K-State didn't create much buzz. He actually began his college career as a receiver.
But he has learned to use his 6-foot-5, 226-pound frame as best he can in K-State's offense, and is incredibly durable. He gets the job done, and wins games.
"It's been a journey," Klein said. "I've learned a lot. I've been able to grow and improve through it and continue to improve to this day. I'm just so grateful and blessed to be a part of this K-State family and be able to contribute to what we have accomplished this year."
One of his biggest accomplishments has come inside the opponent's 20. He is one of the best goal-line runners in the nation, and his 26 rushing touchdowns are one shy of the single-season Big 12 record set by Ricky Williams, another Heisman winner, in 1998.
"He's a highlight quarterback in the conference," K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. "He's just doing it a little different way."
Added junior receiver Chris Harper: "That just shows that people respect what he's done. Even if you don't want to give it to him, you feel like you have to because of all he's done."
Snyder has been hesitant to rank Klein with other top quarterbacks he has coached, but he is not afraid to say he is one of the most versatile players he has been around.
It's certainly hard for Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino to imagine the Wildcats being where they are without him.
" (He has) the size and the strength, the ability to break tackles and the ability to win games in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line," Petrino said. "He is a really, really good football player."
Dimel is used to hearing opposing coaches praise Klein. He often talks to other assistant coaches after games, and he always enjoys what they have to say.
"They thought he was one of the toughest preparations all season to try and get ready for," Dimel said.
He will be once again in Friday's Cotton Bowl. Not bad for an all-purpose player.