If it is possible for a man to lose something he didnt truly own, then Collin Klein lost college footballs highest individual honor around 9 on a Saturday night three weeks ago. You probably remember this.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Klein had captured his sports attention with a remarkable transformation from ordinary recruit to freshman wide receiver to sophomore backup quarterback to junior plow horse and now Heisman Trophy favorite for the nations No. 1 team. He was Kansas States senior star with the blonde hair and aw-shucks humility. Legend has it he didnt even kiss his wife until their wedding day.
Oh, sure. Look no further. This was your Heisman winner right here.
Then, early in the third quarter in front of the ultimate college football dichotomy of empty seats at the stadium but a television audience around the world, everything changed. Klein dropped back, his Wildcats down 11 points but charging hard, and saw two of his favorite receivers over the middle. He had plenty of time to decide and throw, but the ball got there a little too early and a little too high and hit the hands of a Baylor safety.
The Bears converted with a touchdown, and the rout was on. K-State lost what was effectively a national championship quarterfinal. Klein lost the consensus tag as presumptive Heisman winner. K-States brightest national moment in years, gone in a highlight.
Thats the tightrope you have to walk at K-State. You cant win a beauty pageant if you trip on the runway. There are no second chances, like at Alabama.
But its a heck of a safety net Klein landed in. This is the part of the story beginning to come into focus, and will stay with us the more distance we get from Saturdays announcement that Klein finished third in the Heisman voting behind winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Notre Dame's Manti Teo.
Klein just might be remembered as the best player in a programs history, and certainly as Bill Snyders co-pilot in the second incredible resurrection of Kansas State football.
Collin Klein is, by nature and nurture, the perfect Kansas State football player. Humble and tough, the star who always points out he wears the Powercat like all his teammates, so everything he does, they do. He is the kind of player whose Heisman promotion kit features a purple bandage.
He doesnt fit the NFLs mold for potential star but is among the most efficient at what he does in college. Most comfortable out of the spotlight, or in pads knocking into someone.
Better than anyone expected, a classic dual-threat quarterback in the system that highlights those talents as well as any place in the country.
He signed to play for Ron Prince but has thrived playing for Snyder. He couldnt beat out Carson Coffman his first two years but has led K-State to more wins than any other Big 12 program in the last two.
Chad May had a quicker release and Michael Bishop had quicker feet and Josh Freeman had a stronger arm. But here we are, Kleins college career all over but one final bowl game, and hes the soul of the most accomplished team in program history.
The NFL may not think much of him as a quarterback, but here in the Midwest, he is crashing the Mount Rushmore of all-time K-State football players with Bishop, Darren Sproles, Mark Simoneau and Lynn Dickey.
He is the one who teammates peers in theory, at least openly talk of wanting their future sons to be like and their future daughters to end up with. Hes the one who went for four touchdowns and just two incompletions in a blowout over Miami that got peoples attention, bullied his way to the go-ahead touchdown in Norman that made all things possible, and accounted for seven touchdowns in a rout in Morgantown in another national primetime broadcast.
Snyder gets most of the credit for K-States (second) remarkable turnaround, and deservedly so. But its also true that K-State went a perfectly mediocre 13-12 his first two years back from retirement before Klein took the full-time quarterback spot, and 21-4 since. Thats more wins than Oklahoma, Florida State and Michigan and behind only Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Stanford among BCS schools.
If Snyders system accentuates the talents of a dual-threat quarterback as well as any in the country and the careers of Bishop, Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson stand as evidence then Kleins skill set accentuates Snyders system as well as anyone whos ever lived it.
He is smart enough to know where the blocking will be, patient enough to wait for it, tough enough to run through the first tackler a youngster who works diligently enough to improve from a 57-percent passer with 6.8 yards per attempt last year to a 66-percent passer with 9.2 yards per attempt this year. Thats a higher percentage than Aaron Murray, more yards per attempt than Geno Smith and a higher passer rating than Manziel.
There may not be a more valuable player to his team, either in the country this season or in K-State football history. Hes accounted for 66 percent of K-States offensive touchdowns, and 68 percent of the yards.
That wasnt enough to break the glass ceiling and become K-States first Heisman winner, but its enough for an argument as the best player in program history.
Sometime in the coming years, maybe when Collin Kleins NFL team has a bye week, he will stand in front of a (presumably) sold-out stadium in Manhattan to have his name included in the schools ring of honor. Maybe then well have a better perspective on where exactly he ranks in program history.
As it stands, were still in the middle of the noise. Klein still has one more game, after all.
Sproles ran for more yards, Freeman was more physically gifted, Dickey is in the Packers Hall of Fame, and Simoneau is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Bishop had a better winning percentage, and his best team inched closer to the national championship than Kleins.
Those are all good things, enough to make a case for any of those men and more. But heres Kleins: schools all-time touchdowns leader, the soul of the most accomplished team in program history, the driving force behind a second K-State renaissance that most figured impossible, and one bad night in Waco from starring in one of the most improbable stories in the sports history.
Heisman or not, thats a heck of a bio. And on that day in the future, when they get around to putting Klein in K-States ring of honor, they might include one more line, the one that separates him from everyone else in the programs proud history:
Collin Klein, the perfect Kansas State football player.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.