Kansas State Wildcats

Five Thoughts on Kansas State’s 31-28 Big 12 Championship Win Over TCU

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Championship-Texas Christian at Kansas State

The TCU Horned Frogs and the Kansas State Wildcats met in the 2022 Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. TCU came in 12-0 and the No. 3 ranked team in the country, while Kansas State was 9-3 and ranked No. 10, the highest-ranked three-loss team in the country. It was the only Top 10 match up in a conference championship game.

Of course, there were College Football Playoff implications in this game. TCU came into the game trying to become the first team from the Big 12 not named Oklahoma to make the College Football Playoff. The benefit for TCU as the game began was that USC lost in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night to Utah.

And this Big 12 Championship game went to overtime where Kansas State went on to win 31-28 on a Ty Zentner 31-yard field goal. Here are three thoughts on the game.

 

1. Chris Klieman is Officially Out of Bill Snyder’s Shadow

This was already the case, win or lose on Saturday. But by winning the Big 12 Title, the first one for Kansas State since 2012 and their first Big 12 Championship Game victory since 2003, Chris Klieman is officially his own man and is no longer standing in Bill Snyder’s shadow.

Klieman’s climb also proves athletic director Gene Taylor knew exactly what he was doing when he hired Klieman to become the next Kansas State football coach. Taylor knew Klieman from their time together at North Dakota State, and he realized that having a guy who was a veteran, had won national championship regardless of the level, and wasn’t going to be intimidated by the idea of following a legend was important. Klieman was that guy.

The hot-shot, young coordinator on the rise would not have been the right fit. As the old saying goes, you don’t want to be the guy to replace the guy, you want to be the guy to replace the guy who replaced the guy. But at K-State, Taylor proved he could do the former with a unique hire like Klieman.

Klieman had to rebuild this program and its depth more than most fans realized and in Year 4, after going 8-5, 4-5 and 8-5, he has cracked through with a Big 12 Championship, a 10-3 season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

 

2. Two Huge Turnovers

Kansas State won the turnover battle 2-1 on Saturday and their two turnovers forced played huge roles in the game. The first one was a strip of Quentin Johnston after a big reception deep in Kansas State territory in the first half. TCU was in field goal range already and would have had a lot of momentum trailing 14-7 at the time. But a fumble put the ball back into K-State’s hands.

Then in the second half, TCU trailed 21-17 with the ball at the K-State 8-yard line. Max Duggan was picked off in the end zone by Julius Brents on the first play of the fourth quarter. Kansas State then took the ball 80 yards down the field on six plays for a touchdown and a 28-17 lead. These two turnovers were crucial for the Wildcats in holding on to win this game.

3. Play Calling From TCU

TCU got the ball first in overtime and faced two goal line plays from the one-yard line on third and fourth down. While the spot may not have been perfect from the officiating, what will be questioned in this game is the TCU play calling on the 3rd and 4th and goal from inside the one-yard line. On both plays, TCU handed the ball off to Kendre Miller, and both times the Kansas State defense held up.

Both plays were slow to develop and on neither play did TCU give Max Duggan a chance with his arm or feet to win the game, despite the fact that the only reason they were in overtime was due to the heroics of Duggan.

 

After the game, head coach Sonny Dykes explained their decision, in which he said in part, “Kendre’s done it for all us all year. He’s been really, really good in converting those short-yardage situations… obviously if we had to do it over again, we’d do it differently.”

These two decisions will be questioned by the TCU faithful for a long time.

4. Can TCU Still Make the College Football Playoff

That’s the biggest question following this game. The Horned Frogs are now 12-1 after the loss. The good news is that USC lost to Utah on Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game and now has two losses. Ohio State is likely to slide into the College Football Playoff, along with Georgia and Michigan. But that still leaves a 4th team.

Is it TCU or a two-loss Alabama? I don’t see how it can be close. TCU is a one-loss team that did not win its conference championship game, but they made the game, and lost on a field goal in overtime at a neutral site location. This is not a bad loss by any stretch of the imagination.

IF USC had won, then it creates a conversation between Ohio State and TCU, but even had that been the case, the argument for TCU would have been very strong. Now? It’s not close.

If the committee ever did put a two-loss, non-conference champion in over one-loss TCU, based on today’s performance, then the committee, and the entire Playoff process, should just be burned to the ground down for good.

 

5. Max Duggan for Heisman?

USC QB Caleb Williams is probably still the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy over Duggan since both players lost their conference title games, but darn did Max Duggan put the Horned Frogs on his back to erase an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

Duggan was far from perfect on Saturday. He threw a huge interception at the goal line and missed throws, but when it mattered most, he used his legs incredibly effectively, especially on the game-tying touchdown drive, when he literally could not breath after the score and had to ask his teammates to not mob him following the TD.

His final stat line won’t knock your socks off: 18/36 for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while rushing for 110 yards on 15 carries with a score. But anyone who watched the game knows that this game doesn’t go to OT without Duggan, who led this team to its 12-1 record this season.

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