STILLWATER — Tracy Moore and his bum foot didn't make the trip to Manhattan, Kan., last November, instead leaving Moore to watch Oklahoma State's game at No. 3 Kansas State from his parents' house in Tulsa.
And oh, how that hurt; not the foot, but the outcome.
“It's really difficult, going back and watching the game and thinking about it,” Moore said. “It was a pretty good game. We hung in there. But just knowing that you could have made that little bit of difference that could have pushed them over the edge is tough.
“Especially how (good) of a team that K-State was and how highly ranked they were. I felt like that was a good chance for our guys to get out and make an impact on the league.”
And an impact on the Cowboys, whose 44-30 setback instead stamped a third loss on the season and all but signaled the end of their hopes of repeating as Big 12 champions.
Lately, OSU's games with K-State have seemed to regularly carry increased impact for the Cowboys, often even serving as a barometer to their seasons. Saturday, when the Wildcats visit Boone Pickens Stadium with OSU coming off a loss, the matchup again sets up as another potentially defining moment.
“It's definitely important,” Moore said, “especially when everybody's questioning how good we really are and stuff like that. It's good to come out and show people.”
K-State has proved to be a show-me game for the Cowboys, with many of the outcomes sticking out from the rest as significant, if not turning points.
A year ago, with the Cowboys trying to remain relevant in the Big 12, quarterback Wes Lunt was knocked out — resulting in the coming-out party for Clint Chelf — and the team was knocked back to the pack with the loss.
During OSU's record-setting 2011 season, the Cowboys had to withstand a furious Wildcats rally to hold on 52-45 in Stillwater. Joe Randle's tiebreaking, 23-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left clinched it, when a loss would have prevented OSU from claiming its first outright Big 12 title.
In 2010, coming off a home loss to Nebraska and highly vulnerable without a suspended Justin Blackmon in Manhattan, the Cowboys gutted out a 24-14 win that restored their status as a legitimate contender, eventually leading to the school's first 11-win season.
And the intriguing and impactful matchups with K-State extend back to the Les Miles era, with a 44-9 wipeout loss in Manhattan in 2002 eventually being credited in fueling a turnaround that sparked a run to the Houston Bowl.
So, what makes the series with Kansas State so defining?
“It's always a big game,” said Cowboys senior defensive end Tyler Johnson.
And often eventful.
OSU's first-year defensive line coach, Joe Bob Clements, spent 16 combined years at Kansas State as a player, staffer or full-time assistant. And the games with the Cowboys, he said, always stood out.
Some more than others.
“I would say the last two, definitely,” Clements said. “Coming down here and playing them close, but losing at the end two years ago, that was a great atmosphere and a great game. And when they came to Manhattan last year, they'd had a lot of injuries and were playing some guys who didn't have a whole lot of experience at key positions and they played a heck of a football game. And they banged us up a little bit for the rest of our games.”
This time, still seething from poor play in last week's loss at West Virginia, for the Cowboys there's a need to gain some juice for the remaining games. One way or the other, Kansas State figures to be recalled as a swing game.
“It's about now,” Johnson said. “And I'm excited about this one coming up.
“Anytime you come off a loss, you want to come back strong. We want to come back better and get this W.”