Arguably the most commonly used phrase among sports fans is simply, “What if?”
It’s no different for Kansas State football fans. There are so many moments than could have gone differently – good and bad – and possibly altered the course of Wildcat football.
We continue our off-season series of K-State “What Ifs,” at KSO by looking back at K-State’s heart-pounding victory at Cincinatti on the final play of the game in 1995.
What happened: Kansas State turned the ball over six times on the road in the second game of the 1995 season at Cincinnati but was able to rally for a thrilling win, capping off the victory with a touchdown pass from Matt Miller to Kevin Lockett on the final play of the game.
What it caused: In the most simplistic terms, the play gave K-State its second victory in a season that turned in to a 10-win campaign and also provided one of the most memorable plays in K-State football history.
The game-winning touchdown pass also provided another piece of evidence to K-State fans that Wildcat football had indeed changed, and Bill Snyder’s team was one that would regularly put itself in a position to have a chance at winning – even in games when the Wildcats didn’t play particularly well.
But what if… Miller wasn’t able to hook up with Lockett as the clock struck zero, and K-State lost at Cincinatti?
Well, let’s start with the easy stuff. K-State would have fell to 1-1 on the season instead of 2-0 and obviously would not have been able to win the first six games of the season.
The loss may have put some doubt in the minds of Wildcat fans, who were told all off-season long that the losses of Chad May, J.J. Smith and so many other key contributors from the 1993 and 1994 seasons was going to lead to K-State falling back to the bottom half of the Big 8 Conference.
The loss would have took place heading into a bye week before K-State returned home to play the likes of Akron and Northern Illinois, probably creating a month-long stretch that may have lacked excitement in Manhattan.
Let’s assume K-State wins those two and the Big 8 opener at home against Missouri to move to 4-1. Do they win the next week, however, at Oklahoma State? They again fell behind going into the final minutes on the road and rallied to a win; would they have had the confidence and calm to do so without the win at Cinci?
Best case scenario, K-State’s season plays out the same the rest of the way and they end 9-3 with a Holiday Bowl victory. Even then they don’t finish with their highest ranking in school history (No. 6 in the coaches poll and No. 7 AP) or earn 10 wins for only the second time in the history of the program.
Worst case, they end up dropping the game at Oklahoma State – and maybe somewhere else as confidence dips – and finish something like 7-4 in the regular season.
Shoot, maybe even Matt Miller gets benched if K-State doesn’t win at Cincinnati? Brian Kavanaugh played a lot through 1995 and starred after Miller’s injury in the Holiday Bowl, it’s not wild to think the Wildcats may have given him a shot if a turnover-riddled performance by Miller cost K-State a loss to the Bearcats.
If that had happened, Miller’s 1995 season – maybe the most efficient passing season in Big 8 Conference history – never would have taken place.
The video below gives you the highlights of the win at Cinci, and you can’t help but wonder how important the last highlight of the video package was to Snyder’s program as it continued its climb.