A day that started with iconic college football analyst Lee Corso picking Kansas State to pull an upset over Baylor and claim a share of the Big 12 championship on national television ended in disappointment for the Wildcats.
The Bears defeated K-State 38-27 on Saturday in front of 47,934 at McLane Stadium in a fashion that will feel all too familiar for Bill Snyder and his team.
For the second time in three years, K-State’s top goal vanished in Waco.
“We wanted to win tonight really bad, just to get that trophy,” K-State tight end Zach Trujillo said. “Some of us guys on the team wanted two trophies while we were here at K-State. It would have been the first time in history. It didn’t work out.”
Still, this defeat won’t sting the way the last one did, when Baylor handed K-State its first loss after a 10-0 start and eliminated it from the national championship race. This loss cost K-State a trophy and a potential spot in a playoff-affiliated bowl. But the Wildcats (9-3, 7-2) still had a successful season and will now almost certainly land in the Alamo Bowl, where they will face a Pac-12 opponent.
Also, there was little question No. 5 Baylor (11-1, 8-1) was the better team this time around. Sure, No. 9 K-State entered with a quiet confidence, but the Bears scored effortlessly on the game’s opening drive and flashed superior athleticism while racing to a 14-0 lead.
They never looked back on a night they were auditioning for an invitation to college football’s inaugural playoff. The Bears had to win convincingly enough to leapfrog Ohio State, TCU, Alabama, Oregon or Florida State in the playoff rankings.
Regardless, it was enough for them to split a conference championship with TCU, which it defeated 61-58 earlier in the season.
In many ways, this was a similar result to K-State’s last loss, a 41-20 setback at No. 4 TCU.
Baylor used as many as five receivers to spread out K-State’s defense and took advantage of open space created by defensive backs playing well off the line of scrimmage in predominantly zone coverage. The Bears marched up and down the field in the first quarter and could have led 21-0 if not for an interception in the end zone by Randall Evans.
“I don’t think we sagged off any more than we have in the past,” defensive back Morgan Burns said. “Just their schemes … our play calls maybe didn’t match up with what they called. We didn’t execute. It might have been in the back of our head to protect the deep ball because that is what they are so good at. But they were just making great throws. Our defense was off balance.”
Nevertheless, an early lead allowed Baylor’s defense to take chances with blitzes and force K-State quarterback Jake Waters into quick decisions. He rarely had time to look deep for big gains, and outside of a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Trujillo in the second quarter, he did most of his damage on mid-range passes to top receiver Tyler Lockett on the perimeter.
That approach wasn’t enough for K-State to mount a rally, but unlike the TCU loss it never allowed the game to get out of hand.
Snyder’s offensive coaching staff never abandoned the running game, and K-State fought from start to finish.
Late in the second quarter, the Wildcats were down 21-14 with the ball. And that was with two replay reviews that would have resulted in fumbles going against them. A quality drive could have sent them into halftime with a tie score and the opportunity to receive the opening kickoff of the third quarter.
But it wasn’t to be. K-State couldn’t sustain its momentum and punted to Baylor with less than a minute to go in the second half. The Bears responded by moving up field and kicking a field goal on the final play of the half to take a 24-14 lead.
A 24-yard field goal from Matthew McCrane brought K-State back to within one score early in the third quarter, but Baylor surged ahead for good on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Petty to Antwan Goodley.
“There were a monumental amount of events that took place in the course of the ball game,” Snyder said. “It’s easy to say we weren’t well prepared on defense, which is a true statement, but if you get into a shooting match like that than you better be able to have some bullets in your gun, too. We didn’t have as many as we needed.”
K-State typically struggles on the road against high-octane offenses, and that was once again the case against the Bears. Petty, one week removed from a concussion, burned the Wildcats for 412 yards and a touchdown. He spread the ball around to seven receivers with Goodley doing the most damage, finishing with 116 yards and a score.
But Baylor was also effective on the ground, rushing for 172 yards behind Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson.
Snyder took the blame for the loss, saying he didn’t properly prepare his team and continually asked his players to line up in wrong formations.
Players blames themselves, saying they didn’t execute the game plan.
Jake Waters passed for 300 yards, with Lockett serving as his favorite target. The senior receiver grabbed 14 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. The Wildcats also rushed for 103 yards.
That kept K-State within shouting distance in the fourth quarter, but an interception by Xavien Howard allowed Baylor’s offense to take over and run out the clock.
Then Baylor’s students rushed the field and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby presented them a championship trophy.
The scene K-State hoped to be at the center of belonged to the Bears. The regular season didn’t end the way it wanted.
“It all boils down to one game,” Snyder said. “That was tonight. We weren’t the team we wanted to be.”
The top six teams in the College Football Playoff rankings all won their final games this week. The final rankings and playoff matchups will be announced Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN.