2013 Best Game Story, by Ivan Maisel

Comment by the judge, Gene Duffey: Good lead that quickly told the story of Baylor football. Story captured the mood of the game and Baylor’s dominance. Liked the reference to Baylor knowing what a Heisman winner is like compared with Collin Klein. Nice quotes from Snyder and Klein.

By Ivan Maisel


Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel

WACO, Texas — Floyd Casey Stadium will never be confused with Death Valley or the Horseshoe or any of the college football palaces where road teams get mugged. It seats 50,000 in theory, if rarely in reality, because Baylor just doesn’t fill it up. It’s old and unloved and five miles from campus, and Baylor can’t wait to tell you about the new stadium it will open in two years.

But don’t tell any of that to Kansas State. The Wildcats brought their brand new No. 1 BCS rating to Floyd Casey and looked like an impostor. Quarterback Collin Klein came to Waco as the Heisman Trophy favorite and fooled no one. After all, Baylor knows what a Heisman winner looks like.

RG III may be gone, but on a cool, crisp Saturday night, Baylor beat unbeaten Kansas State 52-24 and ended the Wildcats’ short-lived hopes of playing for the BCS championship. The Bears resembled their 10-win team of a year ago, not the team with a 4-5 record that stood last in the FBS in total defense (520 yards per game).

The Baylor offense treated Kansas State as it has every other defense. The Bears gained 580 yards, including 342 rushing yards against a defense that had allowed only 98.9 yards per game on the ground. This was no fluke. Baylor’s four first-half touchdown drives went 82, 75, 55 and 64 yards.

The Bears closed out a 24-point third quarter — and, essentially, the game — when sophomore Lache Seastrunk rumbled 80 yards for a touchdown. The sophomore transfer from Oregon rushed for 185 yards on only 19 carries.

But the real stars of the game played on the Baylor defense, which harassed Klein into throwing three interceptions, half as many giveaways as the Wildcats had all season.

Bill Snyder emerged from the Kansas State locker room, purple windbreaker unzipped, nursing a Styrofoam cup of coffee and looking as unruffled as usual. Snyder prides himself and his team on maintaining an even keel. But when he opened his mouth, you could see his keel hadn’t been even all night.

“I don’t think we handled the situation as well as we should have been able to,” Snyder said. “It had nothing to do with young guys wanting to be successful. They wanted to play well. They wanted to play hard. They wanted to win. We just couldn’t handle the environment as well as we could.”

By “environment,” Snyder didn’t mean global warming, and he didn’t mean the noise in Floyd Casey. He meant, in part, Kansas State’s first-ever No. 1 rating in the BCS.

“I’ve wanted to think not but I can’t assure you that wasn’t the case,” Snyder said, employing a sentence that, like Klein’s interceptions, turned into a triple negative. “I think it has to do with how we handled the overall recognition that we were confronted with.”

That recognition will recede into the background now, even as Kansas State remains a defeat of Texas away from the Big 12 title and a berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

“We knew that No. 1 only matters at the end,” Klein said. “It’s very fickle and we knew that. We knew Baylor was a very good team coming in, and we just didn’t get it done.”

Klein completed 27 of 50 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. But the three interceptions matched his season total. More important, at the critical juncture of the opening of the second half, Klein and the offense went colder than a Snyder glare.

The Wildcats, who hadn’t trailed by more than seven points at any time this season, trailed Baylor 28-7 late in the second quarter. But a flurry of 10 points in the final 1:47 of the half gave Kansas State a boost as it went into the locker room at halftime, especially given that the Wildcats would receive the second-half kickoff.

But on the first two possessions of the second half, Klein went 0-for-6 and threw an interception that the Bears converted into a touchdown. In fact, by the time Klein completed a pass in the third quarter, Baylor had extended its lead to 45-24.

Klein is a senior and the rock of a team that may have overachieved in racing to a 10-0 start. But unlike his coach, he allowed his feelings to show. He looked upset, and his voice caught a time or two.

“It hurts, and it should hurt,” Klein said. “Even Coach (Snyder) said it should really hurt, because that means you’ve invested something. It means there is loss. There is pain. But again, like he also says, it’s going to test our mettle. We’ll see what kind of team we are.”

If it were easy to go 12-0, or win the Heisman, more people would do it. Kansas State gets two weeks to study for its mettle test against Texas. Until then, the Wildcats are stuck with the knowledge of what kind of team they aren’t.



Age: 53

College: Stanford

Maisel has won first place in the FWAA Best Writing Contest for the fourth time in his 26 seasons covering national college football, a batting average that will surprise no one in Spring Hill (Ala.) Little League. Ivan also won for an enterprise story in 1994 while at The Dallas Morning News, for an ESPN.com column in 2003 and an ESPN.com feature in 2006. Ivan covered college football for the DMN from 1987 to 1994, for Newsday from 1995 to 1997, Sports Illustrated from 1997 to 2002. Having taken some grief for job-hopping, he is delighted to have worked at ESPN.com since 2002. Given the rapid change of how people use the Internet, he feels like he has job-hopped a few times without leaving ESPN. What starting out as a writing job with a little TV on the side has morphed into writing, web video and, of course, podcasting. Ivan has hosted the ESPNU College Football Podcast for several seasons, and this season was joined by co-host Matt Barrie. Ivan also has written two books about the sport. Ivan and his wife, Meg Murray, live in Fairfield, Conn., and have three children: Sarah, a senior at Stanford, Max, a sophomore at RIT, and Elizabeth, a high school junior.