There may not be a college football coach in the country with more earned trust than Bill Snyder, the man who saw a miracle where others saw only failure, so there will be no grand proclamations about this Kansas State season just yet.
This program wouldn’t be what it is if it only rose and fell based on the wind.
But five games in and now eye-to-eye with the toughest part of the schedule is an awkward time to still be waiting for more than hope, something more tangible than trust in Snyder.
K-State lost 40-34 in double overtime here to Texas on Saturday, the frustration only building the more layers you want to peel.
Because Snyder built this program on winning games exactly like this, and his best seasons have always come with returning quarterbacks. The old man took a program from the dust and built it into a national player, and a subtle part of his genius has been in never dropping a stinker once expectations rise.
This campus may be the best place in America to make the point above rising to expectations, because no program has generally underachieved more than Texas, which drives home the truth even more:
K-State football is trending toward the rare disappointment.
No sport makes its opportunities rarer than college football, and here went one that won’t come back, leaving the unmistakable fear that K-State is losing ground as the rest of the Big 12 improves.
That’s probably best seen through the lens of offense, because K-State was supposed to have one of the best in the Big 12 this year, but on this night was undeniably outplayed by a first-year coach and freshman quarterback.
K-State’s two losses — the other was at Vanderbilt, which has been blown out three times in a row since — are each by just one touchdown. If the Wildcats were what most expected so far, or what they’ve been in their good years, those outcomes would be different.
Instead, Snyder is left with a disarming honesty when asked if he saw progress with his offense.
“Collectively, no,” he said.
It didn’t need to go this way. K-State led by 10 points twice in the first half, and held a lead until fewer than 2 minutes were left in the fourth quarter. Texas missed two field goals, including one with just 6 seconds left in regulation. K-State had enough chances to win, and enough players up to the challenge.
It just could not do it, Texas finding particular success with quarterback draws that became agonizingly and predictably successful as the game went on. It was fitting that the decisive touchdown came after Texas running back Chris Warren was initially stopped, then pushed forward by teammates through K-State’s defense.
That kind of night.
“Just some execution errors,” defensive back D.J. Reed said. “We need to clean that up.”
Jesse Ertz completed 12 of 18 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was clearly playing through pain, and was removed for a stretch of the second half and overtime for Alex Delton, whose speed quite literally changed K-State’s outlook. He finished with 79 yards and two touchdowns in 12 rushes, many of them around the edges that Ertz could not manage with whatever aches he’s carrying.
Dalton Schoen, the walk-on from Blue Valley Northwest and The Star’s 2015 Boys Scholar-Athlete of the Year, broke out with five catches (two of them with one hand) for 128 yards and two touchdowns. People keep saying he’s slow, but he ran away from a speedy Texas defense on an 82-yard touchdown — K-State’s longest play from scrimmage this season.
The defense has talent, too. D.J. Reed stood up to challenges with an interception and two pass breakups, Tanner Wood continues to be one of the league’s better defensive ends, and Trent Tanking is a force in the middle of the field.
But there are no moral victories for a program of K-State’s caliber, particularly not in seasons like this, not when losing a game that could’ve been won might prove the difference between looking toward the top of the league and worrying more about the shoving match in the middle.
“It wasn’t about effort,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t about caring, and it wasn’t about all those kind of things. It boiled down really to execution, and we didn’t execute the things that we needed to do.”
This doesn’t define K-State’s season, of course, but the reality is the path forward is only more difficult now. Next up is TCU, ranked eighth and rising. Then Oklahoma, which somehow lost at home to Iowa State and a backup quarterback on Saturday but is still loaded with talent and controls its way to the Big 12 championship game.
That last part remains true about K-State. This is just one loss, after all. Beat TCU at home and the discussion changes completely.
But K-State is too good for this, and five weeks in too long to still be basing hope on what we might someday see and not what we’ve seen so far.