Kansas State goes to West Virginia with road map from 1990s

Dana Holgorsen isn't surprised to see Kansas State at the top of the Big 12 standings and on the short list of national championship contenders.

The West Virginia coach is familiar with Bill Snyder's track record in Manhattan, Kan., and knows what type of program he can build.

"They're the same as they've always been," said Holgorsen, who was an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. "They are very tough. They are a physical group. They are extremely disciplined. It doesn't matter if it's offense, defense or special teams; their whole program is built around being tough."

That's part of the reason Holgorsen said Saturday's home game against K-State will be the biggest challenge the Mountaineers have faced yet. Holgorsen admitted that his team didn't show much mental toughness in its 49-14 loss at Texas Tech last weekend, something that will be necessary against an eat-up-the-clock, grind-it-out team such as K-State.

For the Wildcats, it's a similar position they found themselves in last season.

They were in the midst of a magical season, starting 7-0 with wins at Miami and Texas Tech. But Oklahoma came to town and handed them a 58-17 loss that knocked them out of the BCS picture.

Snyder said there might be some similarities, but he doesn't read too much into the past. In his mind, last year has no effect on this year. He also didn't buy into Tech providing a "blueprint" on how to slow down Geno Smith and West Virginia's high-octane offense.

"Maybe for teams that have the same type of schematic capabilities and same kind of personnel," Snyder said. "Most teams have to play within the confines of what their capabilities allow them to do. You don't change your whole structure of all the things that you do and invest so many repetitions in. You go play your game."

That philosophy has worked so far for the Wildcats, who are 6-0 and fourth in the latest BCS rankings. Senior quarterback Collin Klein is a Heisman Trophy candidate with 1,074 passing yards and 510 rushing yards.

It's all reminiscent of K-State's run in the late 1990s under Snyder.

If you recall, the Wildcats went 11-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl in 1997 behind a breakout year by first-year quarterback Michael Bishop, a junior college recruit from Blinn College. The Wildcats' lone loss that season was to eventual national champion Nebraska.

Then, in '98, Bishop and K-State went through the regular season undefeated and were the top-ranked team in the AP poll going into the Big 12 title game. K-State, however, saw its national title hopes fade away in a 36-33 double-overtime loss to Texas A&M.

Still, it was a memorable season for K-State and arguably its best ever. Bishop, a product of Willis High School north of Conroe in southeast Texas, won the prestigious Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback and finished second to Texas running back Ricky Williams in the Heisman Trophy vote.

Bishop, after a lengthy career in the Canadian Football League, is back in Texas and plans to become a high school coach soon. He keeps up with the Wildcats from afar and is proud to see Snyder and the program back at the level he once helped them reach.

Bishop, like Holgorsen, isn't surprised to see Snyder's second term as successful as his first.

To put what Snyder has done in perspective, consider that K-State had only five winning seasons from 1935-1990. When Snyder took over for the first time before the 1989 season, the Wildcats were coming off consecutive winless seasons.

Snyder steadily built the program and eventually led it to 11 consecutive bowl games from 1993-2003. He retired after the 2005 season before returning in 2009.

"He hasn't missed a beat," Bishop said. "He's doing what he does best. He asks, 'What's the best thing my players can do? What can they do 12 times and get it right 10 times?' That system works."

Snyder's straightforward approach worked in luring Bishop to K-State, as well. Several schools were recruiting Bishop out of Blinn, and most wanted him to move to defensive back.

Snyder never mentioned a position change, but also didn't give Bishop false hope that he would have a guaranteed starting spot.

"Most coaches when they come to recruit you will tell you about 90 percent whatever they feel you want to hear," Bishop said. "There was none of that with Coach Snyder. He said, 'Hey, I got six quarterbacks on the roster right now and you'll compete with those guys and may the best man win.' I respected that.

"Players have always respected him and that's why they'll always give him 110 percent."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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