Bill Snyder was re-hired by Kansas State on November 24, 2008. Less than a month later, Paul Rhoads was tabbed by Jamie Pollard to take the reigns at Iowa State. Both programs were in need of some serious rehabilitation. Rhoads of course replacing Gene Chizik and his 5-19 record the previous two years. Snyder stepping in for the equally maligned Ron Prince and his lackluster 10-14 mark over that time (including a loss to Chizik – Prince joins Kirk Ferentz and Dan “This ain’t Intramurals” Hawkins as the only FBS coaches Chizik defeated at Iowa State.)
At the time they were hired, Iowa State and K-State were at the bottom of the Big 12 North. Interestingly enough, Baylor and Texas A&M were in the doldrums of the Big 12 South. How times can change.
The northern programs were in similar distress. K-State had been to one bowl game in the previous five years. Iowa State had been to two. The “Farmageddon” institutions were not even in the same stratosphere as the money printing machines in the Big 12 South. In 2009, Texas generated $94 million in football revenue, Iowa State generated almost $20 million and K-State just $17.5 million. While the gap has closed a bit, the Cyclones and Wildcats are still at a financial disadvantage.
Manhattan and Ames are arguably the two most difficult campuses to recruit to in the conference, both northern-ish outposts with little big city appeal.
According to Rivals.com, Iowa State’s recruiting classes under Rhoads have ranked higher than Snyder’s:
2009: Iowa State-74th, K-State-93rd
2010: Iowa State-60th, K-State-63rd
2011: Iowa State-51st, K-State-69th
2012: Iowa State-88th, K-State-59th
2013: Iowa State-58th, K-State-66th
2014: Iowa State-56th, K-State-47th
As everyone knows, recruiting rankings are an inexact science. Iowa State and K-State often recruit similar overlooked players. And K-State feasts on junior college players which are the most difficult to assess. But the Wildcats have proven getting four and five star prospects is not a necessity to compete in the upper tier of the Big 12. The Cats best offensive player, Tyler Lockett, was a lightly recruited three-star whose only other FBS offer was Kansas. And their best defensive player, Ryan Mueller, is a former walk on.
In his five plus years during his second tenure on the sidelines, Snyder is 43-22, tied for a Big 12 Championship and won ten or more games twice. In that same time Rhoads is 27-37.
The opposite fortune perhaps starts with the matchups with each other.
In Rhoads and Snyder’s first meeting in 2009 down in Kansas City, Iowa State entered with a 3-1 record and were a slight favorite against the Cats. K-State had just lost to Louisiana Lafayette. The teams were dead even for most of the contest, Iowa State taking a 17-10 lead into the 4th quarter. Two Wildcat scores pushed K-State back on top. Iowa State mounted a furious drive with mere seconds remaining. A beautiful Austen Arnaud to Jake Williams touchdown appeared to send the game to overtime. The point after attempt was blocked and K-State held on 24-23. K-State finished the 2009 season at 6-6, Iowa State at 7-6. If Iowa State wins the 2009 battle and starts 4-1 how could that have altered momentum?
The story was similar in 2010; K-State and Iowa State were both still scrambling for relevance. Iowa State grabbed a 20-17 fourth quarter lead down in Kansas City. K-State countered with 10 straight and once more Iowa State had a drive to attempt to tie.On a 4th and 8 at the Cyclone 25, Arnaud found Darius Reynolds for 23 yards and a first down. Arnaud then hit Darius Darks for 11 yards to get to the Wildcat 40. On the next play, Arnaud scanned the field and located a dashing Alexander Robinson down the middle of the field for a probable touchdown. The ball fell out of his reach and the Cyclones came up empty. K-State ended the year at 7-5 and made their first bowl game in four years. Iowa State missed a bowl game at 5-7; if the Cyclones hold on, perhaps they jump K-State in the bowl pecking order.
In 2011, K-State found a quarterback in two-star recruit Collin Klein and found their groove in the Big 12 as a ball-control, ground and pound unit. Bill Snyder discovered the antidote to the speed merchants around the rest of the conference. He hatched his "vampire" style, sucking the life out of opponents. The Cats met the Cyclones in the last game of the 2011 season, Iowa State coming off their biggest win in program history over Oklahoma State two weeks prior. On a rain soaked Manhattan afternoon, neither team led by more than a touchdown. With the game locked up at 23 with three minutes left, John Hubert took off on a 26 yard touchdown that turned out to be the difference. K-State 30, Iowa State 23. K-State won ten games, went to the Cotton Bowl and entered the national spotlight. Iowa State settled for six wins and the Pinstripe Bowl.
Iowa State’s best team under Rhoads was the 2012 squad. That was the team circled to make a run up the Big 12 standings. After a superb win to break TCU’s long home winning streak, the 4-1 Cyclones broke into the top 25 of the coaches poll for the first time in seven years. Undefeated and 5th ranked K-State visited Jack Trice in just the fifth meeting between ranked college football teams in the history of Ames. Like the tussles with Snyder before, it was nip and tuck throughout. K-State surged to a 27-21 lead with four minutes remaining. Once again, the Cyclone offense efforted in the final moments, but came up short. Another opportunity lost.
K-State started 2012 10-0 and vaulted to No. 1 in the nation before succumbing to another up-and-coming Baylor program. The Wildcats tied for the Big 12 title and trekked to the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa State’s Jake Knott suffered a devastating shoulder injury the week after the K-State game. The Cyclones limped to a 6-7 finish and a demoralizing defeat to Tulsa in Memphis. The Cyclones have been trying to stay above water ever since.
It is startling how close the Iowa State and K-State programs were. If Iowa State wins any of those contests, the Big 12 outlook and the trajectory of each of the Farmageddon programs could be significantly different.
In order to climb the Big 12 ladder, when fighting powerhouses like Oklahoma and Texas and (gasp) Baylor every season, it is the battle with K-State that has been the most important for the Cyclones. There are only so many Big 12 wins to go around and the Wildcats have used the nail-biting victories over Iowa State to propel their program and keep Iowa State near the bottom of the standings. Now the Wildcats enter 2014 as a two touchdown favorite on Iowa State’s home turf.
K-State is an example of what can be done with lesser talent than the southern foes. With near flawless execution, a lack of penalties and a dominant special teams, the Wildcats find ways to get it done. A little bit of good luck helps as well. Under Snyder, the Wildcats are 13-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Iowa State is 10-11 under Rhoads, but the Cyclones have lost seven of their last eight games decided by seven or less. In the cutthroat world of college football, a handful of plays can define a program.
How can Iowa State flip their fortunes around? It may start by turning the tables in the Farmageddon game.