For our third installment of the 100 day countdown to kickoff against North Dakota State University, the number 98 represents the most heartbreaking season K-State fans have ever experienced. 1998 was the most tantalizingly close the Wildcats have ever come to the national championship game – even closer than the 2012 season that saw the team start the season 10-0 and reach number in the BCS before faceplanting against Baylor, 24-52.
K-State came into the 1998 season hungry and primed for a run at the national championship. The prior year they finished the regular season 10-1, with the squad’s only loss to eventual national champion Nebraska at Lincoln. They finished the season 11-1 after soundly defeating Donovan McNab’s Syracuse team in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-18.
The 1998 squad came into the season ranked #6 in the country and popped off two easy nonconference victories – 66-0 against Indiana State and 73-7 against Northern Illinois. They then hosted a Texas team that finished #15 in the nation, and beat the Longhorns 48-7 in Manhattan. Other notable victories were a 16-9 triumph at then-#14 Colorado and 31-25 at #21 Missouri. However, none of those games where as important the November 14th showdown at KSU Stadium against Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers had soundly defeated Bill Snyder the year before and owned a 29 game win streak against the Wildcats. Yet K-State had ascended to #1 in the country after the previous week’s victory over Baylor, was at home, and ready for revenge against #11 Nebraska. A controversial no-call late in the game allowed K-State to get away with an obvious facemask by K-State’s Travis Ochs, but the team was destined to take the game either way as Michael Bishop led the Wildcats to a 40-30 victory.
The Wildcats entered the Big 12 conference championship game with an 11-0 record, including an 8-0 standing in the Big 12, and a #1 ranking in the Coaches Poll. However, they were #3 in the BCS behind #1 Tennessee and #2 UCLA and in need of assistance to reach the national title game. Yet a UCLA loss earlier in the afternoon meant one thing to K-State’s football players: win, and you’re in. The opponent was a 10-2 Texas A&M team ranked #10 in the Coaches and AP poll and #8 in the BCS.