Published September 19, 2012
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Arguably the biggest victory in Bill Snyder's long, successful tenure at Kansas State came against the program that has otherwise caused him the most problems.
It was back in 2003, when the Wildcats were annually among the nation's elite. They were heavy underdogs heading into the Big 12 championships game against top-ranked Oklahoma, and managed to upend the Sooners on a cold, clear night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
That remains the only time Kansas State has beaten Oklahoma in nearly 15 years.
They haven't played every year, of course. Only occasionally back in the days of a 12-member Big 12. But a program that has won 11 games on numerous occasions, and played in marquee bowl games after so many splendid seasons, has had its hands full with its neighbor to the south.
"The games I've been a part of, there were points or a turning point where we weren't able to get it done," Kansas State's senior quarterback Collin Klein said. "We weren't beat because of the helmet they were wearing. They've just made plays and we haven't."
Still, the No. 15 Wildcats (3-0) are in a familiar spot heading into Saturday's showdown with sixth-ranked Oklahoma (2-0). They're undefeated, staring at another solid season, but first have to get through what has historically been their biggest stumbling block.
Take, for instance, the 2000 season.
Kansas State had lost just once the previous year, and had rattled off six straight wins to begin the season, climbing to No. 2 in the nation. The Sooners, ranked eighth, scratched out a 41-31 victory, and went on to win their seventh national championship.
The Wildcats won their first two games the following season before losing to Oklahoma, and the 38-37 defeat began a string of four consecutive losses. In 2005, the final year under Snyder before his brief retirement, a 3-0 start came to an end with a 43-21 defeat by the Sooners.
Snyder isn't one to ponder bad omens. He doesn't link one loss to another, particularly when they happen across seasons. Rosters and coaching staffs change, after all. The game evolves, and two programs that have been helped to dominate the Big 12 have evolved plenty over the years.
One thing that hasn't changed, though, is Oklahoma's success against Kansas State.
That became clear again just last season.
The Wildcats had squeaked by everybody on their schedule, coming from behind to stun Robert Griffin III and Baylor, and beating Texas Tech and Miami on the road. They had climbed to No. 9 in the country, and welcomed to town the eighth-ranked Sooners.
Oklahoma jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Kansas State answered with 17 straight points. The Sooners pulled back ahead 23-17 by halftime, and then Landry Jones and his talented wide receivers got into synch, and the Wildcats simply couldn't keep up.
After 35 unanswered points, Oklahoma headed home with a 58-17 victory.
"We played reasonably well during the course of the first half, but the wheels came off in the second half in all avenues," Snyder said during his weekly Tuesday press conference. "They scored a lot of points, but we gave up a lot of those points as well."
Part of Oklahoma's success comes from its familiarity with Snyder's program.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops played defensive back at Iowa from 1979-82, when Snyder was an assistant under Hayden Fry. Snyder took over at Kansas State in the late 1980s and hired Stoops to coach his old position. That turned into a co-defensive coordinator job, and eventually, the pupil took over at Oklahoma and become the biggest thorn in the side of the wily old master.
"I learned a ton from Coach Snyder, and I was around him a great number of years, not only as a player but as a graduate assistant," Stoops said. "I worked the scout team defense against his offense for a number of years. And then seven years there as an assistant coach.
"The attention to detail, the determination, the focus in preparation are some things I always remember," Stoops said, "being very detailed in everything we were doing with Coach Snyder."
Stoops has certainly made a habit of beating up on the Wildcats.
He's 7-1 in head-to-head meetings with his old mentor, and 8-1 overall — Stoops also beat Snyder's shortly tenured replacement, Ron Prince, in their only meeting.
In fact, Kansas State's last regular-season win over Oklahoma was on Oct. 25, 1997, prior to Stoops' arrival in Norman. It's been all heartache for the Wildcats ever since, a troubling trend that they are aiming to end on Saturday night.
"You can't let your emotions run away from you in regards to something that's happened in the past," Snyder said. "Anything we do with our previous games here, and previous games with Oklahoma, is really geared to what areas we have to improve on.
"It's the old adage," he said. "You can't let the same team beat you twice."