Prince, Wildcats Now Have Signature Win

By Kurt Caywood
Updated: November 12, 2006

Kansas State University Head Coach Ron Prince

Kansas State University Head Coach Ron Prince

MANHATTAN — Ron Prince’s first season is a success. An unmistakable, unmitigated, unmatched success. He did it. He won the big one.

Given the national spotlight by ABC but very little chance of succeeding in it by oddsmakers, Kansas State accomplished what it hadn’t in almost three years by knocking off a nationally ranked opponent.

And not just any nationally ranked opponent. Fourth-ranked Texas. As stunning as it was Thursday when Rutgers ended Louisville’s national title hopes, Saturday night’s 45-42 K-State win against fourth-ranked Texas was even more of mind-, and BCS-, blowing.

A 16-point favorite, the Longhorns needed only to get in and out of Snyder Family Stadium, then handle reeling Texas A&M at home, and they stood an even-money chance of defending their national championship in January.

Now, Cotton Bowl scouts are licking their chops — and that’s not even the most miraculous part, at least around these parts.

Most significant to Kansans is the improvement the Wildcats have made and the momentum they have amassed. They came in having won back-to-back Big 12 games and become bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons. Proud accomplishments both, no question.

But one of their six wins was a one-point stroke of luck against I-AA Illinois State, and their consecutive conference wins were against the worst the conference had to offer.

The Cats were a team with virtually no signature performance, let alone a signature win. Now it has both. Now Prince has both.

Simply, no first-year head coach at either of the state’s big-time football schools ever has done anything close to what Prince’s team pulled off Saturday.

The last time K-State beat a ranked team was the 2003 Big 12 championship game, when they surprised, and surprisingly dominated, top-ranked Oklahoma. At times, this had the same feel.

Prince’s promise to be “bold and daring” is one of the most-imitated phrases of the football season, and when it manifested in an ill-advised fake punt early, it gave rise to a Longhorn scoring drive and a stadium full of stunned expressions.

But when bold and daring works, it’s pretty cool — and it worked a lot in the third quarter.

It worked when Prince called a flanker pass followed by a halfback pass that resulted in a score. It worked when he called for the home run ball after a Texas fumble — and got it. And it worked when the Cats blocked a UT punt and punched in for another touchdown three plays later.

“I’m not going to say, ‘bold and daring,’ because you all will laugh,” Prince told the media. Then, when the laughter subsided, he continued, “That was it. It was one of those, ‘What the heck?’ You’re playing the No. 4 team in the country.”

Next week, they play Kansas, a team that received twice as many points in the conference preseason poll as the Wildcats. But now the Jayhawks clearly are the No. 2 team in the state.

Now, K-State, which sputtered to a combined 12 points against Louisville, Baylor and Nebraska has scored 110 in the last three weeks.

Now, combined with a defense that’s been nails from the start, the Cats have a solidifying offensive line, a freshman quarterback who improves by the quarter and a team that buys into its coach’s ways a little more every day.

A month ago, after four losses in five games, the beginning of the Bob Huggins era in basketball seemed like all K-State had to look forward to.

Now, Huggins looks forward to the day when K-State basketball makes its new-look football program proud. “I told Ron the other day,” Huggins said, “that I hope our guys can make as much improvement as his kids have.”