Kansas State University

A look at the historical ceiling and floor of 3-0 K-State teams in the past 20 years

Since 1999, Kansas State has started 3-0 ten times.

The Wildcats are 3-0 heading into their bye week before looking to beat Oklahoma State in Big 12 play on the road. And there is some good news and bad news about 3-0 K-State teams over the past 30 years.

One of the Wildcats’ 3-0 starts came in 2006. Like first-year K-State coach Chris Klieman, Ron Prince was in his first year. It was his best season of the three he spent in Manhattan.

However, in the last 10 KSU seasons that started 3-0, the program is a combined 90-40. The Wildcats have won the Big 12 twice in that span, had only two losing records, missed a bowl game once and finished with five 11-win seasons.

There is reason to believe this year’s 3-0 start will land on the positive side.

Since 1999, K-State teams that started 3-0 beat a Power Five team in six of those years. Only two have won true road games against Power Five teams.

The most recent such win came in 2011. K-State finished 10-3 that season, second in the Big 12 and played in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.

Before that, it was 1999. The Wildcats went 11-1, again finished second in the conference, and played Washington in the Holiday Bowl.

Ahead of K-State’s road game against Mississippi State last Saturday, Klieman stressed the importance of the game. Historically, he was right in doing so. Passing an early road test against a Power Five opponent has proven pivotal for the rest of the season.

The Wildcats beat Mississippi State 31-24.

“I thought we started the game really well, and I thought we finished the game really well,” Klieman said. “In the middle, we had some issues. The great thing when you have success and win, sometimes I think it’s easier to go back and challenge the guys.”

The win in Starkville wasn’t pretty, as K-State turned the ball over three times, but now the Wildcats have a bye week to prepare for Oklahoma State.

In the past 20 years, K-State’s bye week has hit in Week 4 after a 3-0 start just once.

In 2015, the Wildcats beat Louisiana Tech 39-33 at home to start 3-0. Two weeks later, the Cats lost 36-34 at Oklahoma State. That team finished 6-7 and eighth in the Big 12, but it also didn’t have a road win over an SEC team.

K-State teams that start 3-0 are 7-3 in their fourth game over the past three decades. Wins include a 24-19 road victory over Oklahoma in 2012, when K-State finished 11-2, and a 27-20 victory against USC in 2002. The Cats finished 11-2 that season.

Oklahoma State enters Saturday 3-0 as well but must go through No. 12 Texas on the road before it meets K-State Sept. 28.

“We know what we did last week has no bearing on the next week,” Klieman said. “You better put your head down and go to work.”

Over the past five seasons, including 2019, only 10 Power Five coaches have started 3-0 in their first season. Just two of them finished with a losing record. However, those two inherited somewhat similar situations and programs to what Klieman inherited this year.

Here are the past 10 coaches to do what Klieman has done in starting 3-0:

Ryan Day - Ohio State, 2019

First year record: 3-0

Previous year’s record: 13-1

Previous year’s coach: Urban Meyer

Reason for departure: Retired

2017 College football value ranking: 1st

Joe Moorhead - Mississippi State, 2018

First year record: 8-5

Previous year’s record: 9-4

Previous year’s coach: Dan Mullen

Reason for departure: Hired at Florida

College football value ranking: 35th

Mario Cristobal - Oregon, 2018

First year record: 9-4

Previous year’s record: 7-6

Previous year’s coach: Willie Taggart

Reason for departure: Hired at Florida State

College football value ranking: 21st

Justin Wilcox - California, 2017

First year record: 5-7

Previous year’s record: 5-7

Previous year’s coach: Sonny Dykes

Reason for departure: Fired

College football value ranking: 37th

P.J. Fleck - Minnesota, 2017

First year record: 5-7

Previous year’s record: 9-4

Previous year’s coach: Tracy Claeys

Reason for departure: Fired

College football value ranking: 32nd

Lincoln Riley - Oklahoma, 2017

First year record: 12-2

Previous year’s record: 11-2

Previous year’s coach: Bob Stoops

Reason for departure: Retired

College football value ranking: 3rd

Willie Taggart - Oregon, 2017

First year record: 7-5

Previous year’s record: 4-8

Previous year’s coach: Mark Helfrich

Reason for departure: Fired

College football value ranking: 21st

Kirby Smart - Georgia, 2016

First year record: 8-5

Previous year’s record: 10-3

Previous year’s coach: Mark Richt

Reason for departure: Fired

College football value ranking: 8th

D.J. Durkin - Maryland, 2016

First year record: 6-7

Previous year’s record: 3-9

Previous year’s coach: Randy Edsall

Reason for departure: Fired

College football value ranking: 49th

Tracy Claeys - Minnesota, 2016

First year record: 9-4

Previous year’s record: 6-7

Previous year’s coach: Jerry Kill

Reason for departure: Retired

College football value ranking: 32nd

Chris Klieman - Kansas State, 2018

First year record: 3-0

Previous year’s record: 5-7

Previous year’s coach: Bill Snyder

Reason for departure: Retired

College football value ranking: 30th

Based on these case studies, Klieman’s situation is most like what Tracy Claeys inherited at Minnesota in 2016.

Kansas native Jerry Kill retired as coach of the Gophers after just five seasons with the program, not 25, like Bill Snyder. But the programs are similar in value, and the previous year’s records were, too.

Under Claeys in 2016, Minnesota went 9-4 and won the Holiday Bowl against Washington State.

If K-State beats Baylor, TCU, Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech, and loses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State, the Wildcats would finish the regular season 8-4.

On average since 1999, K-State teams that start 3-0 finish the season 9-4.

“I’m happy that we’re 3-0, but big picture, we haven’t started conference play yet,” Klieman said. “We know every game is going to be a dog fight.”

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