No. 17: Kansas State
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 17, 2012
This was a team that won eight games by single digits: Eastern Kentucky by a field goal, Miami (Fla.) by inches, Baylor by a point, Texas Tech by a touchdown, Texas A&M in four overtimes, Texas despite gaining only 121 yards of total offense, Iowa State with a late score. This was also a team that was plus-15 in turnover margin, committing just a shade over one giveaway per game and returning three interceptions for touchdowns, scoring five non-offensive touchdowns altogether. As a result – because of the fact that this team won games, but not with style – it’s easy for some to make the case that Kansas State is due for a slide; you can’t rely on luck to keep winning games, goes the argument. The rejoinder to this argument can be found on the sidelines. There is no statute of limitations on coaching greatness, just as there’s no reason why the Bill Snyder-led Wildcats can’t continue to win close games, as they have for a generation, and continue to exploit every possible weakness it can find until after 60 minutes, K-State’s disciplined and opportunistic play makes your team just the latest notch in Snyder’s belt. It doesn’t take a miracle, and it doesn’t take luck; it’s just coaching, and Snyder’s been making your team look stupid longer than the Big 12′s been in existence.
14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 1
- Sept. 8
- Sept. 16
- Sept. 22
- Oct. 6
- Oct. 13
at Iowa St.
- Oct. 20
at West Virginia
- Oct. 27
- Nov. 3
- Nov. 10
- Nov. 17
- Dec. 1
Last year’s prediction
If anyone other than Snyder were running this team, I wouldn’t think the Wildcats capable of getting back to bowl play. Don’t underestimate the importance of another year under Snyder, which means to me that the Wildcats will be a better team, if not extremely talented as individuals. No, the talent level isn’t great; it’s actually not very good, to be fair, though there is certainly talent in spots – running back, receiver, linebacker, safety. But listen: K-State isn’t going to get worse under Snyder. I don’t think the Wildcats are anywhere close to taking home the Big 12, but even with a pretty tough schedule I’m pretty certain that K-State can duplicate last season’s seven-win finish.
In a nutshell Kansas State hadn’t tasted this level of success since 2003, when Snyder nabbed that elusive conference title, and perhaps hadn’t experienced such unforeseeable success since 1993, when Snyder notched his first season with nine or more wins. It wasn’t easy, but in a way, that made the end result all the more satisfying. The Wildcats needed a touchdown with less than two minutes left to be Eastern Kentucky. The Hurricanes came within centimeters of a late win. The seesaw affair with Baylor wasn’t decided until K-State forced a turnover on downs with little more than a minute left. Likewise with A&M, Texas and Iowa State, another three games that took a 60-minute effort. The Wildcats’ three losses came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arkansas, three teams then ranked in the top nine nationally. This was vintage K-State football, as led by Snyder, and it was outstanding.
High point The best win was likely the one over Baylor, seeing that the Bears, like K-State, ended the year with 10 wins. But I think the most satisfying was the victory in Austin, where the Wildcats cobbled together a four-point win despite gaining only 121 yards of total offense.
Low point K-State was mauled only once, in a 58-17 home loss to Oklahoma; the loss to Oklahoma State came by a touchdown – and a late touchdown at that – while the Cotton Bowl loss to Arkansas came by 13 points. A 53-yard O.U. field goal to end the first half seemed to take wind out of the Wildcats’ sails: down 23-17 after 30 minutes, K-State would get blanked, 35-0, over the second half.
Tidbit Nine of K-State’s 13 games last fall were decided by a touchdown or less. Prior to 2011, the Wildcats had never been involved in more than seven games decided by seven points or less, with both years coming before 1936. In both 1911 and 1935, Kansas State played in seven games decided by a touchdown; the Wildcats went 2-4-1 in those games in 1911 and 2-3-2 in 1935. Never before had K-State won more than three games decided by seven or fewer points in a single season – the Wildcats went 8-1 in such games last fall.
Tidbit (good omens edition) One solid harbinger of success: Kansas State is 133-27 since 1990, Snyder’s second season with the program, when scoring first. One lock-it-in, turn-off-the-lights harbinger of success: K-State is 149-5 since 1990 when leading at halftime. Basically, there’s a 96.8 percent chance that the Wildcats will win if they head into the half with a lead.
Former players in the N.F.L.
19 WR Brandon Banks (Washington), RB Bryce Brown (Philadelphia), RB Rock Cartwright (San Francisco), OT Jeromey Clary (San Diego), RB Thomas Clayton (Arizona), LB Zac Diles (Tennessee), QB Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay), S Tysyn Hartman (Kansas City), LB Rob Jackson (Washington), LB Emmanuel Lamur (Cincinnati), OG Ryan Lilja (Kansas City), TE Jeron Mastrud (Miami), CB Joshua Moore (Denver), WR Jordy Nelson (Green Bay), CB Terence Newman (Cincinnati), RB William Powell (Arizona), RB Darren Sproles (New Orleans), RB Daniel Thomas (Miami), LB Reggie Walker (Arizona).
Arbitrary top five list
Programs that did not win a title (1990-2003)
1. Kansas State.
2. Penn State.
3. Texas A&M.
5. Virginia Tech.
Bill Snyder (William Jewell ’63), who holds a 159-83-1 mark over two separate stints as Kansas State’s head coach. It would be somewhat misleading to call his first stretch, which lasted 17 seasons (1988-2005), merely the heyday of the school’s football program; I don’t believe such a description does Snyder’s first tenure justice. Let’s put his record into perspective. The Wildcats went 137-445-18 from 1935-1988, the year before Snyder’s arrival. The program finished with only five winning seasons over this 54-year span: 1936, 1953-54, 1970 and 1982; that’s three fewer winning seasons than the program had winless seasons over that time. While he did not immediately make K.S.U. into a winner – the Wildcats won 18 games in his first four seasons – the program took the next step forward in 1993, when it finished 9-2-1 and set a team record for points in a season (312). In 1998, an historic win over rival Nebraska pushed K-State to the top spot in the national polls, the first time K.S.U. stood atop the college football landscape. That year – which ended with the Wildcats ranked No. 4 nationally – might have been the apex for the program, but Snyder continued to field annual conference and B.C.S. contenders. Kansas State won its first conference championship since 1934 in 2003, when it upset heavily favored and then-No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. However, the team struggled in the following two seasons, finishing a combined 9-15, leading many to question whether Snyder could still coach at a high level. Hence Snyder’s decision after the 2005 season — mutual, by all accounts — to step down, leading the university to make one of the Big 12′s most misguided hires in the ill-suited Ron Prince. Three years later, the godfather of Kansas State football was called in to clean up the mess – again. Had the time off recharged the batteries of college football’s hardest working coach? Better yet, will Snyder be able to reclaim the magic of his first term? I think it’s safe to say that Snyder’s ability as a coach hasn’t dimmed with age. One thing is certain: the Hall of Fame is waiting, whenever he’s ready to call it a career. He is one of the finest coaches in football history.
Players to watch
I see Collin Klein in black and white, clad in a leather helmet, dust-colored pants and a full-sleeve jersey, perhaps as the third option in a four-horsemen backfield. That’s because I love a good throwback; Klein is a throwback, a player who stands as this generation’s Eric Crouch – perhaps a poor example in this preview – though he’s also more than that. Klein is many things, beginning with a direct extension of Snyder, Del Miller and this coaching staff. He’s the engine behind this physical offense. Klein is the starting point for everything Kansas State wants to do on this side of the ball, from snap to whistle; he’s the face of this offense and the face of this team, and the missing piece of the puzzle on offense – the reason why K-State was able to control the clock and dictate the tempo during Big 12 play a year ago.
Statistically, it’s hard to see how Klein can improve upon last season’s totals on the ground. He rushed for 1,141 yards, leading the team and ranking fourth in the Big 12, and added another 27 scores, a new school record and the second-most in the nation, behind only Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. He was a workhorse, pure and simple: Klein averaged 24.4 carries per game, earning at least 22 carries in every game but two, and scored at least once in every game but one, the season opener against Eastern Kentucky. The running game will continue to roll through the senior, perhaps leading to a touch more production, but it’ll be hard for Klein to make much more than a subtle improvement.
It’s as a passer that Klein has room for growth, and it’s in this area that you’ll see him take a step forward as a second-year starter. He wasn’t terrible last fall, throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 scores, but K-State needs Klein to provide greater balance to a run-heavy offense. The Wildcats have already seen some improvement, in Klein’s comfort in the pocket and ability to move through his reads before tucking it down, but the staff should also be sensible: K-State shouldn’t ask for the moon, merely for a more concrete performance in decision-making, accuracy on short throws and touch on the deep ball.
All are doable. The first comes with time; Klein will continue to be careful with the football as he gains more experience as the starter. The second is something that K-State needs to work on, and has worked on, during spring ball and fall camp – and into this coming season, especially during non-conference play. The latter is an asset that could really push this offense to new heights: Klein has speed and big-play potential at receiver, so you can only imagine what Kansas State could achieve should it add a deep passing game, perhaps off of play-action, to go with the strong interior running game. If Klein can add that to his repertoire, he’s going to be one of the very best players in college football. He’s already a potential all-American and a Heisman contender.
The Wildcats has found a very nice secondary option on the ground in junior John Hubert (970 yards), who came into last fall with 11 career carries but left with one of the most productive seasons by a sophomore running back in school history. Hubert won’t get the call inside the red zone, where Klein goes to work, but his ability to get outside provides this offense with a wonderful accompanying piece to the quarterback’s hard-charging running style. The role Hubert fills for this offense is simple, in fact: K-State needs him to gain five yards on first down to loosen things up. When Hubert does that, it leaves the Wildcats in very manageable second and third down situations.
While there aren’t a ton of carries left over once Klein and Hubert get theirs, Kansas State likes the different look former JUCO transfer Angelo Pease (144 yards) gives this offense out of the Wildcat formation. The Wildcats might also carve out a bigger role for sophomore Robert Rose, a pint-sized Florida product who makes Darren Sproles and Rock Cartwright look like Christian Okoye – now that’s a better reference to make in a Kansas State preview.
I really like what the Wildcats can offer at wide receiver. The group is led by senior Chris Harper (40 catches for 574 yards), the former Oregon transfer who has found a home at the position after first trying his hand at quarterback. While his production trailed off late, it’s clear that Harper is Klein’s favorite target. Then there’s sophomore Tyler Lockett (18 for 246), who has already proven himself to be one of the nation’s most dominant return men; next, Lockett must translate his return skills to the passing game. The Wildcats also return sophomore Tramaine Thompson (21 for 338), another smaller option with the ability to stretch the field, as well as sophomore Curry Sexton and junior Torrell Miller, who came on strong over the final portion of last season.
While K-State won’t have JUCO transfer Marquez Clark, a potential game-breaker who couldn’t qualify academically, the Wildcats have enough weapons to make things happen in the passing game. This offense has a steady target in Harper, though you’d like him to avoid the lulls that found him going one or two weeks without any meaningful production. Lockett and Thompson – especially Lockett – can stretch the field. Tight ends Travis Tannahill (10 for 104) and Andre McDonald (9 for 136), the latter someone who will pop up and bite you, give Klein another pair of options over the middle.
The only staffing changes can be found on the defensive side of the ball, where Snyder replaced former coordinator Chris Cosh, now at South Florida, with former defensive backs coach Tom Hanes. Hayes, who did a great job with K-State’s secondary last fall, has past coordinator experience: Oklahoma, Stanford, U.C.L.A. and yes, Kansas. The only new addition to the staff is linebackers coach Mike Cox, who spent the last three seasons in the same capacity at Washington. The faces will change, but look for the Wildcats’ defensive approach to remain the same: Hayes will continue his work with the secondary while attempting to beef up last season’s pass rush.
It’s all about JUCO transfers up front, whether those in their second year with the program or those who stepped on the field for the first time earlier this month. At least two former transfers will start up front: Meshak Williams (28 tackles, 7.0 sacks) at end and Vau Lutui (34 tackles) inside. A third and a fourth, John Sua and Javonta Boyd, entered fall camp as the leading contenders to start at nose tackle. Yet another senior – of the traditional variety – rounds out the starting lineup: Adam Davis (34 tackles, 4.0 sacks) teams with Williams to give the Wildcats one of the nation’s more underrated end pairings.
The line as a whole was very underrated last fall, though whether Kansas State remains as stout up front depends on how well Lutui and Sua hold down the fort in the middle. Not that Sua’s the only option: K-State added another three transfers in Wesley Hollingshead, Chaquil Reed and Hakeem Akinola, and I imagine that all three will get a look at both tackle spots. That’s enough depth to make things happen inside, but the Wildcats need to get more out of sophomore Ryan Mueller, a smaller and quicker end who could help give Kansas State bring more pressure on third down.
Arthur Brown (101 tackles, 9.5 for loss) is the tone-setter for this defense – he’s this group’s Klein, a productive senior who leads by example. The former Miami (Fla.) transfer hit the ground running after sitting out the 2010 season, packing the Wildcats in tackles from his spot at middle linebacker and giving this defense sideline-to-sideline coverage on the second level. Brown combines production with a flair for the dramatic, as seen in his juggling, stumbling, game-changing interception against Baylor. He’s Kansas State’s second all-American candidate; it’s been wonderful to see the senior take this second chance and run with it. There aren’t many better linebackers in college football.
One of Cox’s first tasks as the Wildcats’ new linebackers coach will be finding a new starter on the strong side, where K-State lost Emmanuel Lamur. If it’s bloodlines this staff is looking for, they can’t do any better than senior Justin Tuggle, whose father, Jesse, was one of the best linebackers of his generation – Tuggle, who started his career at Boston College as a quarterback, took well to a position change during preparations for last year’s Cotton Bowl. He’ll be competing with another converted skill player in senior Jarell Childs, a former running back. It’ll be junior Tre Walker (52 tackles), a multiple-year starter, on the weak side. Depth comes from senior Blake Slaughter, sophomore Jonathan Truman and, perhaps, sophomore Tate Snyder – the grandson.
The secondary lost two starters off of last year’s group in free safety Tysyn Hartman and cornerback Davis Garrett. But two vital pieces remain, and no one piece – no one piece in this secondary or this defense, in fact – is more vital than senior Nigel Malone (58 tackles, 7 interceptions), another former JUCO transfer and the third player on this team poised to make a strong challenge for all-American honors. You can see why the Wildcats’ defense should improve despite losing a few starters: K-State has two ends who can get to the passer, an all-American at linebacker and one of the nation’s top cornerbacks on the outside.
Malone will get the headlines, but behind the scenes, it’s junior safety Ty Zimmerman (58 tackles, 2 interceptions) that leads this secondary. A former quarterback, Zimmerman’s leadership will come in handy as the Wildcats slide Thomas Ferguson into Hartman’s shoes in the starting lineup. Garrett’s replacement will be senior Allen Chapman (50 tackles), with cornerback depth coming from junior Kip Daly and redshirt freshman Randall Evans – and even JUCO transfer Kent Gainous, though it seems as if the Wildcats are going to pencil Gainous in at safety. Chapman needs to buckle up; teams are going to look away from Malone throughout, so the senior could get picked on if he’s not prepared.
Kansas State knows that Williams, Davis, Brown, Malone and Zimmerman will deliver. Whether the defense improves – not that it was awful by any stretch last fall – hinges entirely on how well Hayes and the defensive staff can slide the former JUCO transfers into starting roles. This latter group include those four interior linemen, Tuggle and Chapman; if they’re ready, the Wildcats can break in a slightly new cast without a hitch. If not, if offenses can play away from K-State’s stars, this defense could be in a bit of trouble.
Do not adjust your monitor: Lockett averaged 35.2 yards per kick return last fall. Yes, that’s accurate. Lockett and Thompson, who handles punts, help K-State effectively control field position. It’s all about control for Snyder: protecting the football, controlling the clock, controlling field position and so on down the line. The Wildcats’ return every leading figure on special teams, from Lockett and Thompson to kicker Anthony Cantele and punter Ryan Doerr, so expect another sterling performance in this phase in 2012 — though K-State will miss Raphael Guidry’s uncanny ability to block kicks.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line The Wildcats are rebuilding up front without three of last season’s starters, not to mention a would-be senior, Manase Foketi, most thought would move back into a starting role on the blind side – Foketi, who started the first two games of last season at left tackle, left the program over the summer. In turn, that leaves K-State with only two reasonably experienced linemen: senior left guard Nick Puetz and sophomore center B.J. Finney. The good news for the Wildcats is that both are all-conference caliber starters; Puetz, a former Wyoming transfer, is going to hold a greater comfort level as a second-year starter, and Finney has already made a case for being one of three best centers in the Big 12.
But there’s not much else, and that’s a concern. Coming out of spring ball, the Wildcats had redshirt freshmen Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair at right guard and tackle, respectively. At left tackle, Kansas State turned the job over to junior Cornelius Lucas, last year’s backup on the right side. Whether this changes – whether this is K-State’s starting five – hinges on whether the staff gives the right tackle spot over to JUCO transfer Tavon Rooks, one of two new linemen coming in off the JUCO ranks. If Rooks’ lack of prototypical size proves not to be a concern, the Wildcats could start him at right tackle and move Whitehair inside, improving the competition for the starting spot at guard. If so – and I imagine Whitehair would still be Rooks’ backup – Snyder and his staff could turn to either of the redshirt freshmen or junior Keenan Taylor.
Here’s the Wildcats’ best line, in my opinion: Rooks at left tackle, Puetz at left guard, Finney at center, Stiverson at right guard and Lucas at right tackle. Rooks is too small to be an effective run blocker on the strong side; Lucas, on the other hand, is not only massive but also familiar with the position, having been last year’s top reserve. The bottom line, however, is that Kansas State has only one senior lineman, Puetz, and may start as many as two redshirt freshmen – perhaps two redshirt freshmen and a JUCO transfer. The line’s a concern.
Game(s) to watch
You can see a few positives on this schedule, beginning with what should be a smooth start during non-conference play. The Wildcats also get teams like Oklahoma State and Texas at home, giving them the edge against a pair of strong conference opponents. The bad news: Kansas State gets Oklahoma, West Virginia and T.C.U. on the road. While the Wildcats did a great job on the road last fall, that’s as tough a trio of road dates as any team will face in 2012. But outside of O.U., K-State shouldn’t encounter any major bumps through the first half, perhaps heading into Morgantown at 5-1 overall.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Those who can’t imagine Kansas State matching last year’s success need to remember that Snyder’s running the show; with Snyder in town, anything is possible. I mean anything: Kansas State could win the Big 12, reach a B.C.S. bowl, even improve upon last year’s 10-win regular season. That’s what great coaching will get you. For the Wildcats, combining this staff with the team’s senior leadership is a recipe for success – regardless of the fact that the ball seemed to bounce K-State’s way a season ago. For the life of me, I simply cannot see how it is that the Wildcats can’t win another nine games in the regular season and be a dark horse contender in an even deeper and more dangerous Big 12.
That the league is deeper will cost the Wildcats a win, in my opinion, but it won’t knock this team any lower than 8-4. To me, K-State will win no fewer than eight games in the regular season. Why? On offense, the Wildcats can tout the backfield pairing of Klein and Hubert, with the former one of the elite quarterbacks in college football, and a receiver corps with the ability to stretch the field if defenses load up the box to stop the run. The Wildcats hit the checklist on defense: nice pressure at end, size inside, an all-American at linebacker and a stopper at cornerback. This is more than just a well-coached team – K-State also has talent.
But I can find three areas of concern. The first is the offensive line, particularly at tackle. The second is Klein, believe it or not: Kansas State needs to get more balance on offense, meaning that Klein must become more effective in the passing game. The third – while I like the group overall – are all the new faces on defense, which has me wondering how well Hayes and the staff can slide so many former JUCO transfers into major roles without missing a beat. Not huge issues, but these are issues that Snyder and Kansas State must address before Oklahoma. While I don’t think that K-State is going to win the Big 12, I do think that the Wildcats need to be taken more seriously as a B.C.S. bowl contender. With history as our guide, the Wildcats will continue to win games until Snyder steps aside.
Dream season Kansas State wins 12 games by a combined 18 points, shocking the Big 12 and the F.B.S. en route to a shot at an SEC team in the B.C.S. title game.
Nightmare season The Wildcats struggle in close games, surprisingly enough, and drop to 6-6 after winning 10 games a year ago.
In case you were wondering
Where do Kansas State fans congregate? You can find in-depth recruiting coverage and a healthy dose of banter at KStateFans.com, Go Powercat and Go Emaw — Every Man a Wildcat. For a blog’s take, visit Bring On the Cats.
Kansas State’s all-name nominee OT Cody Whitehair.
Through 108 teams 440,882.
Who is No. 16? It’s a long summer. It’s not easy. Nevertheless, I did make another mental flub with the hint. Note the change: Tomorrow’s program exhibits the sort of bipartisanship this country really needs: Of its double-digit win seasons since 1900, 51.8 percent have come with a Republican in the White House and 48.2 with a Democrat in the White House.
Tags: Adam Davis, Allen Chapman, Andre McDonald, Anthony Cantele, Arthur Brown, B.J. Finney, Big 12, Bill Snyder, Boston Stiverson, Chris Harper, Collin Klein, Cornelius Lucas, John Hubert, Kansas State, Meshak Williams, Mike Cox, Nick Puetz, Nigel Malone, Robert Rose, Ryan Doerr, Tavon Rooks, Tom Hayes, Tramaine Thompson, Tre Walker, Ty Zimmerman, Tyler Lockett, Vau Lutui
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