The Kansas State Wildcats football program (variously Kansas State, K-State, or KSU) is the intercollegiate football program of the Kansas State University Wildcats. The program is classified in the NCAA Division I Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and the team competes in the Big 12 Conference.
Historically, the team has an all-time losing record, at 526–640–41 as of the conclusion of the 2017 season. However, the program has had some stretches of winning in its history, most recently and most notably under head coach Bill Snyder from the 1990s through the 2010s. In 1998 Kansas State finished the regular season with an undefeated (11–0) record, and from 1995 to 2001 the school appeared in the AP Poll for 108 consecutive weeks—the 15th-longest streak in college football history.
Since 1968, the team has played in Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium (formerly KSU Stadium) in Manhattan, Kansas. The Kansas State University Marching Band, also known as the Pride of Wildcat Land, performs at all home games and bowl games.
According to most sources, Kansas State's football team began play on Thanksgiving Day 1893. A team from Kansas State defeated St. Mary's College 18–10 on that date. Other sources name Kansas State's first game as a 24–0 victory over a team from Abilene, Kansas, on November 3, 1894. However, the first official game recorded in the team's history is a 14–0 loss to Fort Riley on November 28, 1896.
In its earliest years, the program had a different coach every year—generally, a former college football player who had just graduated from college. Often, the coaches also played with the team during the games. Some of the coaches during this era include Fay Moulton (1900), who went on to win Olympic medals as a sprinter; Wade Moore (1901), who later was a successful minor league baseball manager; and Cyrus E. Dietz (1902), who became a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. The pattern changed when Mike Ahearn became the first long-term coach in 1905. Ahearn coached for six seasons, leading the team to winning records each year, and concluding in the 1910 season with a 10–1 mark. Ahearn also won two conference championships in the Kansas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, in 1909 and 1910. Ahearn was followed by Guy Lowman, who led Kansas State to another conference championship in 1912.
Kansas State accepted an invitation into the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1913. After a few years adjusting to the league's eligibility rules and a higher level of competition, the school experienced sustained success in the 1920s and 1930s. Elden Auker was part of a group of excellent athletes who attended Kansas State around the time of the Great Depression, which also included Ralph Graham, Maurice Elder, Leland Shaffer, Cookie Tackwell, Dougal Russell, Henry Cronkite, George Maddox, and Elmer Hackney.
These athletes were coupled with a series of Hall of Fame coaches. The first of these coaches was Z.G. Clevenger, who arrived in 1916 when Kansas State essentially swapped head coaches with Tennessee. Clevenger is in the College Football Hall of Fame for his playing abilities, but he was also recognized as a brilliant coach and administrator. Clevenger was followed as football coach in 1920 by Charlie Bachman, who stayed until 1927 and earned his way into the College Football Hall of Fame with his coaching prowess. Bachman was also responsible for permanently endowing Kansas State's sports teams with the nickname of "Wildcats." His successor, Alvin "Bo" McMillin, the coach from 1928–33, is also in the College Football Hall of Fame as a player, but he too was a successful coach who, after leaving Kansas State, was recognized as national collegiate coach of the year and then served as head coach for two NFL teams. After McMillin left, Kansas State hired Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, who was also later enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach.