Matthew McCrane had only been on campus a few days when his elder Kansas State teammates received their 2012 conference championship rings.
His first thought was predictable. I want one of those.
Two seasons later, the redshirt freshman K-State kicker may get his wish.
“It would definitely be nice to get a Big 12 ring,” McCrane said. “I came in the spring and stood right here when the guys were getting their rings and saw them putting them on for the first time. If we can do that and get another Big 12 ring to put on my finger, that would be a great thing.”
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The Wildcats can win a new set of rings and at least a share of the Big 12 championship Saturday with a victory at Baylor. K-State is in a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Baylor and TCU. All three teams have one league loss. If TCU falls to struggling Iowa State on Saturday, K-State can claim an outright league title with a win.
Of course, K-State players won’t care if the trophy and rings are duplicated for TCU. When asked where he would rank a conference championship on his list of achievements, quarterback Jake Waters was straight to the point.
“It would be the highest,” Waters said. “It would be the best thing that I’ve done. When I came here that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to win a championship. Now we have the opportunity to do it. It’s cool; obviously, this is what you play for. This is why I came here and why everyone is practicing hard. The chance to win a Big 12 championship is here. It just depends on what we do with it.”
With the addition of college football’s inaugural playoff, much of America has shifted its focus away from conference championships and to the top four. The playoff selection committee follows no specific selection protocol, and in their eyes a conference championship could be meaningless.
Even the Big 12, which uses the slogan “One True Champion,” says it won’t use tiebreakers to distinguish an outright champion for any purpose this season.
K-State hasn’t gotten caught up in all that. Its primary goal at the start of each season was simple: Win a conference championship. It remains the same today.
“The whole playoff thing kind of came to the forefront of everyone’s minds this year,” receiver Curry Sexton said. “But winning the Big 12 is so tough, especially now when you play the round-robin schedule and have to play nine really tough teams. That makes winning it a little more special. To be able to do that two out of three years would really something good for the program.”
It would also be a first.
K-State has only won three conference championships – the Big Six in 1934 and the Big 12 in 2003 and 2012 – but now has the opportunity to send its senior class out with a pair of league titles.
And a championship ring on each hand.
“It would be huge,” defensive back Morgan Burns said. “This senior class is near and dear to me. It’s … a lot of great players who have put in a lot of time and truly care about this program. I would love to see them go out with a bang and a win something that has never happened in this program before. It would be super special.”