IN THE THIRD QUARTER AGAINST OKLAHOMA STATE ON Nov. 3, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein rushed for his 17th touchdown of the season. Everything seemed possible. K-State led 38--17 and would soon win the game and improve to 9--0. Klein was third in the nation in passing efficiency. Brent Musburger of ABC Sports inadvertently called him the "Heisman winner," prompting his colleague Kirk Herbstreit to say, "Feels like he's the winner, he's so far out in front."
And then, when K-State got the ball again, Klein stayed on the bench. He had been hurt on the touchdown drive, although his coach would not say how. Klein was unimpressive the next week against TCU, and the Wildcats barely won. Then came the Baylor disaster. Amid a total defensive failure, Klein and K-State tried to pass their way back into the game. Klein threw three interceptions, doubling his season total, and the No. 1 Wildcats lost the game and their chance at a national championship.
"Gut-wrenching," Doug Klein, Collin's father, says, describing the meeting he and his son had after the game. "Almost physically ill. We both were."
Compounding the problem, K-State had an open date the next week—which meant twice the usual amount of time to think about the loss. Klein prayed the same prayer he's prayed all season: "Lord, whatever you do, and whatever you want with my career and this season, I just want to give you my very best."
And then he got back to work. Klein is known as much for his preparation as for his toughness. Against Texas on Dec. 1, he and his teammates returned to the bruising style that had gotten them this far. Klein threw only 14 times but averaged an excellent 13.1 yards per pass. He ran 23 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 42--24 win that earned them a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
That night, continuing a postgame tradition, Klein and his friends had a midnight dinner at the home of Dr. Ralph Richardson, dean of the veterinary school at K-State. There was chili and potato soup, with strawberry angel food cake for dessert. Klein was sore but uninjured, and he couldn't stop smiling.