Manhattan One of the biggest wins during Bill Snyder's first tenure at Kansas State came in 1993, on a Saturday in late October, when Oklahoma came rolling into town.
Snyder was in his fifth year of rebuilding arguably the worst program in the history of college football, and despite modest success, was still in search of a signature victory.
The Sooners were ranked No. 13 at the time, and had no reason to believe the incredible winning streak they'd had against the downtrodden Wildcats would end. But on a homecoming afternoon, Kansas State stunned them 21-7, and would go on to finish 9-2-1 and reach its second bowl game ever.
"It was one of the steps we felt, 'Yeah, we kind of took another step,'" recalls Bob Stoops, who was an assistant to Snyder at the time and is now the head coach at Oklahoma.
As fond as those memories are, Stoops doesn't want Snyder to earn another program-defining victory this Saturday, when the 11th-ranked Sooners visit No. 10 Kansas State.
Once again in late October, and once again on homecoming.
"Playing coach Snyder and the whole group of guys there, it's just complicated, because they're very smart in how they play, and how they work their offense, how they work their defense," Stoops said. "Playing against them, you have to be disciplined in what you do, so it's challenging."
Stoops knows firsthand how challenging.
One of the best teams he's ever had at Oklahoma came into the 2003 Big 12 title game as a heavy favorite to knock off Kansas State, which had struggled mightily early in the season. Ell Roberson, Darren Sproles and Co. instead handed the Sooners a humbling 35-7 defeat.
Stoops acknowledged that he tried to model what he's done at Oklahoma on Snyder's handiwork. It's only natural, he said, given how bad Kansas State was when they both arrived.
"I don't know that anybody can really look back, unless you were there at that time and could see how really poor and rotten it really was — there's no describing it," Stoops said. "There really isn't. It was horrendous. I hope no one there is mad. They know it. It was."
So why did Stoops sign on to such a job?
"I was young and naive," he said. "I've said this to coach before: I believe it helped me because I never thought for a minute we wouldn't win. I had that much respect and faith in coach Snyder having worked with him all those years at Iowa. And all we did at Iowa was win. Coach Snyder with Hayden Fry, I was a young player on the team, hadn't had a winning season in 18 years or so. And my third year, their third year there, we're in the Rose Bowl and Big Ten champions.
"So, I thought, 'That's what we do,'" Stoops said. "Not a day went by that I didn't believe we'd win and win in a big way as we went forward. Little by little, it was happening. I say that because sometimes if you'd been jaded by this profession and in it maybe a little longer, you'd have looked at that situation and said, 'Boy, good luck with that.' Some other guys wouldn't have wanted to come or some may have left early. I just felt all along that we would do it."
If that win over Oklahoma in 1993 was the first signature victory for Snyder, then that upset at Arrowhead Stadium on a crisp December night eight years ago — the program's first conference title in decades — was the high-water mark of Snyder's first tenure in Manhattan.
Two straight losing seasons followed, and then Snyder stepped away for a brief retirement, putting the program in the hands of a former offensive coordinator from Virginia. When the program continued to flounder under Ron Prince, Snyder came out of retirement to once again rebuild the program.
The first year was lean. Last year ended in a bowl game.
This year, the Wildcats (7-0, 4-0) are ranked in the top 10 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and are tied for first with Oklahoma State in the Big 12. They've knocked off Miami and Texas Tech on the road, and beat up Baylor and Missouri at home.
Now, they have a chance to beat an elite team like Oklahoma — and get another watershed win.
"We're going to have to play well and execute and definitely not beat ourselves, but this is just another test," said Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. "We just have to prepare our hardest, and to the best of our ability, and prove it on Saturday."
The Sooners (6-1, 3-1) figure to come into the game ornery after a 41-38 loss to Texas Tech last Saturday, which snapped a 39-game home winning streak and knocked them from the national title race.
Snyder even said jokingly this week that he'd send Oklahoma's program some comic strips from the newspaper to the lighten the mood a little bit.
The last thing he wants is Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and the rest of the Sooners angry.
"We're going to get the 13th guy on the field — the 12th and the 13th," Snyder said, when asked how he'd defend their potent offense. "I tried 12 — that doesn't work. So we're going to do 13."
If Snyder is looking for a legit way of handling the Oklahoma offense, he'll probably find a pretty good blueprint in what Texas Tech did last week.
The Red Raiders controlled the ball and prevented the Sooners from getting a first down throughout the second quarter, and that in turn kept their high-powered offense from getting into the fast-paced tempo that has given so many opponents trouble this season.
By the time Oklahoma got things going, Texas Tech had already built a 31-7 lead.
"It's tough," Sooners defensive back Aaron Colvin said. "We had such big expectations for the season, but things happen for the good and for the bad. We need to prepare for Kansas State this week, which is equally as good a team, if not better. We need to put the loss behind us."