MANHATTAN, Kan. – Tommy Tuberville remembers having a conversation with Bill Snyder shortly after the longtime Kansas State coach had returned to the sideline from a brief retirement.
Tuberville was working as a broadcaster at the time, and remembers Snyder telling him how much work had to be done with the Wildcats to get the program back where he wanted it.
"He decided to get out, and then hated to see how the program was going and decided to go back and take it over again," said Tuberville, now the coach of Texas Tech. "I'm proud for him and his family. Him wanting to get back in it, and going through the grind again."
Well, the program is just about back to where Snyder wanted it these days, and little could Tuberville have known that his 15th-ranked Red Raiders could present the biggest hurdle to the No. 4 Wildcats' perfect regular season on Saturday.
"They've done a heck of a job. They go a different approach than a lot of other teams, but everything that they do is sound," Tuberville said. "I've learned a lot from him watching how they coach, how they prepare, and they're not going to be fancy. They go out and try to make mistakes happen and capitalize on them, and that's football."
Certainly there is no better example of "not going to be fancy" than Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who has thrust himself to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race.
Klein's coming off the finest performance of his career in one of the most dominant showings in school history. He was 19 of 21 for 323 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and had 41 yards and four TDs on the ground, in a 55-14 whitewashing of then-No. 17 West Virginia.
"We have a lot of weapons," Klein said, as usual deflecting the attention from himself. "It helps everybody when you have a lot of guys that are able to contribute and make those plays."
The Wildcats (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), who also boast a road win over No. 8 Oklahoma, rose to No. 3 in the latest BCS standings on the strength of their win in Morgantown last Saturday.
Of course, Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1) handled the Mountaineers just as easily.
The Red Raiders rolled to a 49-14 win two weeks ago, when West Virginia was still unbeaten, in some ways drawing up a blueprint for Kansas State. Texas Tech followed that up with a thrilling, triple-overtime victory over TCU last Saturday to make two straight wins over Top 25 teams.
"They throw it, they catch it, they have an extremely talented quarterback, as good of wide receivers as there are anywhere in the country, some returning guys. They're just very successful at what they do," Snyder said. "They execute extremely well."
That quarterback is Seth Doege, the Red Raiders' own Heisman Trophy candidate.
After throwing three interceptions in a loss to Oklahoma, the senior has been phenomenal over the past couple of weeks. He threw for 499 yards and six touchdowns against the Mountaineers, and then had 318 yards passing and seven touchdowns last week against the Horned Frogs.
Just like Klein, the Heisman Trophy is the last thing on his mind.
"I'm just enjoying the ride," Doege said. "I think if you worry about stuff like that too much and start thinking about it, you kind of lose focus on what the big goal is."
While the headliners on Saturday will no doubt be the quarterbacks, and the potent offenses that they direct, neither team would be chasing a Big 12 title without their defenses.
The Wildcats limited the Sooners to a season-low 19 points at their own place, and last week put a crimp in West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's Heisman hopes. He threw his first two picks of the season and finished 21 of 32 for 143 yards, his only touchdown toss — the Mountaineers' only offensive score — coming with 7:31 left and his team trailing by 45 points.
"I think our performance is due to our preparation throughout practice, and being able to see our performance," Wildcats linebacker Arthur Brown said. "It is really just the confirmation that we need to continue to be successful throughout the season."
Texas Tech is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball, either, a marked departure from the days when Mike Leach was running the program.
The Red Raiders are seventh nationally in total defense, making them one of two teams in the country — Florida State being the other — to be ranked in the top 12 in total offense and defense.
"We've got to play our game," Tuberville said. "We've got to get ready, play much better, prepare much better, focus, understand what we're getting ready to get into. It will be a big-time atmosphere, playing one of the top teams in the country."