AMES, Iowa – The upcoming matchup between Kansas State and West Virginia was supposed to break up the tie between the Wildcats and Mountaineers for first in the Big 12.
There's no doubt who leads the league now.
No. 4 Kansas State (6-0, 3-0) emerged from Saturday's hard-fought 27-21 win over Iowa State (4-2, 1-2) as the Big 12's only unbeaten team, both overall and in the conference.
Though the Wildcats would quickly lose their grip on the league lead with a loss at No. 17 West Virginia — which is no doubt smarting after a 49-14 shellacking by Texas Tech on Saturday — they woke up on Sunday as the unquestioned class of the conference.
Just don't tell coach Bill Snyder that.
"I'd like for us to have played better than we did across the board," Snyder said. "There were times we played extremely well ... but by the same token, we still had some issues."
Kansas State's winning formula has been remarkably simple: Play sound, disciplined defense and let Collin Klein handle the offense.
Klein was brilliant again on Saturday, with 292 total yards and three rushing TDs against an Iowa State defense that entered the weekend ranked third in the Big 12 at less than 16 points allowed per game.
Klein converted a series of crucial third downs on a key drive in the fourth quarter. It produced a field goal and, more importantly, ate up over eight minutes at a time when the Cyclones desperately needed to make something happen on offense.
Klein also responded with a quick touchdown drive after Iowa State had seized momentum with a 30-yard TD pass from Jared Barnett to Ernst Brun late in the first half.
"He's an All-American in my book. He doesn't get the attention because he's not as flashy and doesn't put up the gaudy numbers that some of the other college football players do," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said about Klein. "But he has a 6-0 football team that is ranked in the top five in the country."
Kansas State's defense allowed the Cyclones to score three touchdowns even though they had the ball for barely 19 minutes. But when the Wildcats needed stops, they got them.
Iowa State had the ball at its own 40 with 4:17 left, trailing by six points, but Kansas State forced Barnett into three incompletions and got the ball back. The Wildcats also stopped Iowa State on its final possession two minutes later, with Barnett misfiring on three straight passes with pressure in his face.
Perhaps the most troubling problem for Snyder on Saturday was penalties. Kansas State had just nine all season, but it committed nine more in Ames.
"It was tremendously out of character for us," Snyder said. "We had been the least penalized team in the country and now we look like the most penalized team in the country. That's a matter of discipline. That's a matter of a lot of things. Part of it is focus."
But given how well the Wildcats are playing, Snyder is likely resorting to nit-picking to find anything wrong.
It's been 3½ years since Snyder came back to the sidelines, and his formula for building a Big 12 champion is working wonders so far in 2012.
"They can play with anybody in the country with arguably less talent on the field than everybody in the top 10 if not everybody in the top 15," Rhoads said.