For coach Bill Snyder and Kansas State, there was a clear path to the BCS championship game and a likely Heisman Trophy for Collin Klein.
That all changed after an unexpected blitz by Baylor, the team that a season after its Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III is still trying to get bowl eligible and had the nation's worst-ranked defense.
A week after taking over the top spot in the BCS rankings, and getting so close to a chance to play for their first national championship, the Wildcats (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) trailed by three touchdowns before halftime and lost 52-24 at Baylor.
They tumbled five spots in both the latest Associated Press poll and new Bowl Championship Series standings.
"The really only failures in life are giving up and not trying and not caring,'' coach Bill Snyder said. "I would like to think that none of the young people in that room fit that category. They're going to be tremendously disappointed, and eventually, and the sooner the better, that will turn into anger and then it's time to get it behind us and move on. They still have some opportunities to do some special things.''
The Wildcats can still get into a BCS game, and clinch at least a share of their first Big 12 title since 2003, by winning the regular-season finale Dec. 1 at home against 18th-ranked Texas - after a week off for a devastating loss to simmer.
But there will almost certainly be no national title chance, and maybe no Heisman for the quarterback who had been the front-running candidate. Klein was blitzed and harassed all night by the Bears team that was last among FBS teams allowing 520 total yards, and giving up more than 39 points a game.
"It's why you play the game,'' Klein said. "We knew they were a better defensive ball club than what showed on paper and we just didn't get it done.''
Klein threw two touchdowns and ran for another, but his three interceptions matched his total for the first 10 games. He was sacked twice, hit countless other times and couldn't get in the end zone on four consecutive carries after first-and-goal from the 6, the last two attempts from the 1.
"They thought they were going to come down here and just roll over us, but we weren't about to let that happen,'' Baylor nickleback Ahmad Dixon said. "We wanted to jump on them early and see how they would respond. They haven't been behind all year, so it was good to score on the first drive.''
Bears defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was once Snyder's defensive coordinator at Kansas State.
Baylor led less than 2 minutes into the game when Nick Florence threw a 38-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. After K-State responded with a quick touchdown, the Bears overcame a 95-yard kickoff return being nullified by a penalty with Florence's 12-yard keeper that put Baylor ahead to stay.
Kansas State, which hadn't trailed by more than seven points all season, was down 28-7 when Glasco Martin had the first of his three TD runs with 2:54 left in the first half.
"We just didn't handle the environment as well as we should. We had six penalties in the first half, all on defense. Four offside penalties. Just lining up offsides. That's discipline,'' Snyder said. "Without discipline, you can play hard and want to and all that, but then you make those kind of mistakes. We made mistakes across the board. Couldn't move the ball on offense.''
The Wildcats did score 10 points in the final 1:47 before halftime, and had the ball to start the second half.
Klein had a 13-yard run on the first play of the second half, then had two incompletions before being picked off in the middle of the field. After Baylor needed only four plays for a touchdown, Klein missed on three more passes before a punt that pinned the Bears at their own 1.
Randall Evans had an interception that set up Klein's 1-yard plunge only 2 1/2 minutes into the second half, but K-State never scored again after that.
The Bears still have to win one more game to be bowl eligible for the third consecutive season. They play Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium next Saturday and finish the regular season at home against No. 22 Oklahoma State.
"I don't think we really rose up, I just think we've been doing what we've been doing all along and we are just jelling at the right time and we are becoming better,'' Bears coach Art Briles said. "We know what we are doing, we believe in what we are doing, we got good people on the field who know how to play and know how to play at a high level thanks to some things we did last year. We are heading in the right direction.''