MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) In many ways, the direction of Kansas State and Auburn the past couple of seasons has been shaped by a surprising decision that Jake Waters made nearly two years ago.
The Wildcats were about to lose senior Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein, and coach Bill Snyder wanted to land a junior college quarterback who had a similar dual-threat skillset.
Waters was putting the finishing touches on a record-breaking run at Iowa Western Community College, and most assumed he would continue his career at Penn State. After all, he'd indicated he was leaning that way, despite being vigorously pursued by Kansas State's coaches.
So hedging his bets, Snyder put the full-court press on Nick Marshall, who had transitioned from defensive back to quarterback at nearby Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
''Just watching him play,'' Snyder recalled Tuesday, ''he was a talented guy.''
There were rumors that Marshall was about ready to commit when Waters held a press conference on Dec. 13, 2012, and stunned the closely knit recruiting world by choosing the Wildcats.
Suddenly, Marshall was forced to change course. He ultimately settled on Auburn.
On Thursday night, they'll both be under the spotlight when Marshall leads fifth-ranked Auburn into Manhattan to face Waters and No. 20 Kansas State in a premier nonconference matchup.
''I think if you look at both of our offenses,'' Malzahn said last week, ''there are some similarities. It helps to have a dual-threat quarterback. That was probably the reason they were after him, and that's probably the reason he was attracted to them.''
Waters knew all along that Kansas State was interested in Marshall, and that whoever chose first would likely be Snyder's quarterback of the future. But in the musical chairs of college football recruiting, Waters insists that he never gave it much thought.
''I knew what kind of player he was. And I knew he was getting recruited by Kansas State,'' Waters said. ''I was just focused on myself and the process for me, trying to make the best decision for me. But I knew about him and what type of player he was.''
It's hard to argue that things have worked out poorly for either of them.
Waters wrestled the starting job from Daniel Sams last season, leading the Wildcats to seven wins in their final eight games and a victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
He's completed better than 61 percent of his passes, third-best in school history, and currently has the top passer efficiency mark. He's on the watch list for just about every major national award, including the Maxwell and Davy O'Brien awards.
''He's very good at running the football, but he's also good at throwing,'' Malzahn said. ''The ball comes out of his hand really quick. Especially with the ball on the perimeter.''
For all the success that Waters has had, Marshall has trumped him.
After committing to a program that had a new coach in Malzahn and had won just three times the previous season, Marshall quickly made a name for himself. He helped Auburn win their first three games, then bounce back from a loss to LSU with nine more victories, capped by a shootout win over Missouri in the SEC championship to land in the BCS title game.
The second-ranked Tigers had Florida State on the ropes in that game, too, before a fourth-quarter charge by the top-ranked Seminoles resulted in a dramatic 34-31 defeat.
''He was a very good quarterback in high school,'' Malzahn said of Marshall, who likewise is being touted for a bevy of national awards. ''He fits into what we were looking for.''
Just like he fit into what Kansas State was looking for.
Waters is quick to point out that Thursday night's game in Manhattan isn't about just the quarterbacks, though. Sure, they will be in the spotlight, two of college football's best playing the game's marquee position. But they are only part of the equation.
''It's not really just about me or him,'' Waters said. ''I won't be out there comparing, `I have this many passing yards compared to Nick.' Or, `I'm playing better than him.' Obviously he's a great player. He's going to make plays. He's a heck of an athlete, he has a great arm. I've seen him play. But it's not about me or him. It's about K-State and Auburn.''