MANHATTAN (AP) — When B.J. Finney stepped to the line of scrimmage on Sept. 3, 2011, against Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State's football program was still in disarray.
The Wildcats had been to three bowl games the previous eight seasons. They won a Big 12 title in 2003 but hadn't won eight games or more since then. Their coach, Bill Snyder, had retired and come back, bookending the forgettable tenure of Ron Prince.
Fast-forward to the present and Finney, an All-Big 12 center, and 21 fellow seniors have helped to send the Wildcats to three straight bowl games. They climbed to No. 1 in the BCS standings two years ago, winning the Big 12 title. And on Saturday night at Baylor, the ninth-ranked Wildcats have a chance to win a share of another title with a victory.
The seniors would be the first at Kansas State to have won two conference titles.
"Toughness, grit, determination and perseverance, which are a bunch of things that you'd want to see in a football team," Finney said. "Especially with the seniors. Coming in, our first year was our first bowl game since 2006, and we've taken it upon ourselves to reach a bowl game each and every year."
That part is already assured this season.
Kansas State (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) will travel to Waco with both teams trying to win a share of the Big 12 title. And for the Bears, a victory just might propel them into the four-team playoff.
After losses to Auburn and TCU, the Wildcats need several upsets to enter the playoff picture, but that doesn't mean their season has been a disappointment. They beat Oklahoma, routed rival Kansas and are headed toward another significant bowl game.
"There were so many guys that we looked up to before us," said defensive end Ryan Mueller, who like Finney will be playing his regular-season finale Saturday. "Having that great leadership that we had to look up to, the Collin Kleins, Arthur Browns, Meshak Williams, when it was our time to step up as seniors it almost felt like it was easy. We already knew how to do it."
The run almost certainly wouldn't have been possible without wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, who could become the first duo at Kansas State to exceed 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. Sexton needs 60 yards against the Bears.
The pair already has half of the 10 double-100-yard receiving games in school history.
"That just makes me look a lot better and it helps me out so much knowing that I have two guys that will always be in the right place at the right time, not make those mistakes, and work as hard as they do," said Jake Waters, a senior who transferred to Kansas State for his final two seasons from junior college. "It definitely helps me and elevates my game too."
Snyder was quick to compliment the businesslike mentality of his team. But he never once considered where this year's team would finish, not before the season or in the midst of it.
"Certainly our players do and that is certainly viable," he said. "I don't address it that way. I am the same old, same old, one day at a time. I do not make those kinds of projections. Other than the fact that we are capable of anything, I do not place any limitations on our football team today and certainly did not however many months ago when we got started."
Having won a junior college national championship, Waters couldn't help but smile at the thought of capping his career with another piece of hardware on Saturday night.
Perhaps it would be the fitting end to a dramatic turnaround by Kansas State's senior class.
"It would be the highest," he said. "It would be the best thing that I have done. When I came here, that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to win a championship and we have that opportunity."