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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The brutal defeat that Kansas State endured two years ago at Baylor is not in the back of the Wildcats' minds. More like front and center, every day of every week.
They were barreling toward an undefeated regular season with only the Bears and struggling Texas standing in the way of the BCS title game. They had a Heisman Trophy front-runner in Collin Klein at quarterback, and a defense that had evolved into one of the nation's best.
They were run right out of Waco after a humiliating 52-24 loss.
"That's always on our minds. We always look back at that," said senior wide receiver Tyler Lockett. "It's one of those deals where you don't get too many opportunities to be in that position. Obviously if we would have won, we would have played Texas on that senior night."
Lockett's voice trailed off for a moment. Then he finished his thought.
"We had a chance to go to the national championship and Baylor ruined those plans," he said, "and us seniors, we remember that. Even the juniors that were freshmen then remember."
It was no surprise, then, that after rolling to a 51-13 rout of Kansas last weekend, thoughts immediately shifted to the ninth-ranked Wildcats' trip to No. 5 Baylor on Saturday night.
The winner will earn no worse than a share of the Big 12 championship.
"It's going to be huge going down there, playing the best team in the Big 12, arguably," defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "We're going to be ready to go. We're going to prepare like we've never prepared before. We know what's on the line."
Of course, they knew what was on the line two years ago, too.
Kansas State was 10-0 when it headed to Floyd Casey Stadium, which has since been replaced by a glittering new facility at Baylor. The Bears were stumbling along around .500. But on a bizarre night in which everything seemed to go awry, the Wildcats allowed 342 yards rushing, 580 yards of total offense and watched Baylor pick off Klein three times.
It was 28-7 late in the second quarter, and the BCS standings started to quiver. It was 35-17 early in the third quarter, and the entire national title picture began to crumble.
By the time the game ended, the Wildcats were left to wonder what might have been.
"I certainly think about it a lot. It left an indelible mark on me," Mueller said. "It was definitely the most painful loss I've had here. That one hurt, big time."
Mueller wouldn't use the word "payback" to describe his feelings heading into Saturday's game at glitzy McLane Stadium. But not only do the Wildcats (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) have an opportunity to capture a share of the Big 12 title, they can also ruin the Bears' national title hopes.
Baylor (10-1, 7-1) was seventh in last week's College Football Playoff rankings, and should jump at least one spot when the new poll is released Tuesday night. A win over Kansas State and a little bit of help elsewhere could push the Bears into the inaugural four-team playoff.
"It's going to be a real emotional game, a big game for us, just like every game every week," Kansas State running back DeMarcus Robinson said. "Two years ago, it hurt. We're trying to avoid that feeling again. It was terrible. But you know we have a task at hand. We have another chance. We have to make something happen."
The Wildcats still have an outside shot at the playoffs, though it would take a monumental amount of help. A more realistic goal is a share of the school's second Big 12 title in the last three years, something that Kansas State has never before accomplished.
"They ruined our season two years ago," wide receiver Curry Sexton said. "It's going to be a tough game. They're a really good football team, but we're looking forward to the challenge."