No one at Kansas State wants to admit thinking about it, but we can: If Ell Roberson had been healthy all year, the Wildcats might be playing for a national championship instead of in Friday’s Fiesta Bowl.
The game will kick off at 6 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium, and will be broadcast locally on ABC (Ch. 15) and ESPN radio (860 AM).
"It’s always in the back of your mind," co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Del Miller said Sunday. "But it stays there."
Roberson, a multiple-threat senior quarterback for No. 8 KSU, suffered a broken left (non-throwing) hand Sept. 6 against McNeese State. That forced him to sit out the next two games, the second of which was a 27-20 loss to Marshall.
The Wildcats also lost their next two, at Texas and at Oklahoma State, games in which Roberson now admits he was not 100 percent.
Since then, Kansas State has won seven straight, including an upset of then-No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
In that stretch, Roberson has completed 60 percent of his passes (86-of-144) for 1,328 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 544 yards and seven scores.
Not coincidentally, the Wildcats have averaged 38.7 points since his return to health.
"It’s been ups and downs," Roberson said. "(The broken hand) was kind of frustrating.
"But for the most part I was able to get my stride back and get the guys believing in us and what we have to do. I wouldn’t ask for a better year, the way we came back and showed everybody that we still are a team."
Said guard Ryan Lilja: "When Ell’s in there and when he’s playing well, he’s throwing the ball well, he’s running the ball well, he’s out there thinking well, getting us into place, I think our offense is pretty darn good."
Overall, Roberson has passed for 2,251 yards and a school-record 24 touchdowns and rushed for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is the second player in Big 12 history, along with Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 2,000 yards in his career.
"Roberson can take a loss and turn it into a 20-yard gain," Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio said.
"Ell Roberson is as competitive a young man as you will ever find," KSU coach Bill Snyder said. "He’s as tough a young man as you will ever find."
In the upset of Oklahoma, Roberson threw for four scores — a Big 12 championship game record — as he went 10-of-17 for 227 yards.
"I really just played my game and let a lot of guys make plays around me and didn’t try to win the game myself," he said.
Had that Roberson been around for the games against Marshall, Texas and Oklahoma State. . . . "We try not to think about that," Lilja said. "It’s hard to say one thing could (change) the whole season," center Nick Leckey said. "I doubt it. It’s always a combination of things." We’ll never know.