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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 59: Kansas State

"Great game, coach! And remember: don't forget your power towel. Bring it to every game!"

There’s Bill Snyder, then there’s everybody else. That stands for coaches in Kansas State football history; that also stands for any coach who has undertaken any rebuilding job in the annals of college football. If there’s one man who can win with the Wildcats, it’s Snyder. If there’s one man with the breadth of knowledge, the dedication and commitment needed to perform the latest miracle in Manhattan it’s — you guessed it — Snyder. Which makes me wonder: Where’s the love for Snyder and Kansas State? How can K.S.U. be ranked anywhere but in bowl play, in Big 12 North contention, right where he left off? Does no one fear the architect of the finest turnaround in college football history?

Conference
Big 12, North

Location
Manhattan, Kan.

Nickname
Wildcats

Returning starters
12 (5 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 70

2009 record
(6-6, 4-4)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 70

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    U.C.L.A.
  • Sept. 11
    Missouri St.
  • Sept. 18
    Iowa St. (in Kansas City, Mo.)
  • Sept. 25
    U.C.F.
  • Oct. 7
    Nebraska
  • Oct. 16
    at Kansas
  • Oct. 23
    at Baylor
  • Oct. 30
    Oklahoma St.
  • Nov. 6
    Texas
  • Nov. 13
    at Missouri
  • Nov. 20
    at Colorado
  • Nov. 27
    North Texas

Last year’s prediction

I am concerned about the quarterback position, and thusly the offense as a whole, which will need to be at least above average to play with the high-octane offenses in the conference. I have fewer questions about the defense, partly because of the defensive coordinator tandem of Vic Koenning and Chris Cosh and partly because of the unit’s athleticism. Looking at K-State’s schedule, I predict the team to finish 6-6, 3-5 in the Big 12. Not bowl eligible, but if Snyder gets this team playing his style of football, there is no reason it can’t be a nuisance to the rest of the Big 12 North.

2009 recap

In a nutshell The Wildcats were a little more than just a nuisance, as I projected in last year’s preview. Kansas State entered its season finale against Nebraska — hated, hated Nebraska — needing only a win over the Cornhuskers to win the Big 12 North. Yes, under the radar, Kansas State was a very viable North division contender in Bill Snyder’s first season back in Manhattan. Was there ever any doubt? Not that it was pretty; no, far from it. The Wildcats struggled offensively, even with the superb play of its all-conference running back, and barely squeezed past Massachusetts in the season opener — before losing to Louisiana-Lafayette the following week. It certainly wasn’t pretty. Yet Snyder’s debut season — his second debut season — was a success. Next step: back atop the North, as if nothing has changed.

High point In terms of pure surprise, nothing comes close to Kansas State’s 62-14 shellacking of Texas A&M. Thanks to five A&M turnovers, the Wildcats lead by 59-0 less than seven minutes into the third quarter. The Wildcats also beat rival Kansas for the first time since 2005, the final year of Bill Snyder, Part I.

Low point Every loss hurts. A loss to Nebraska hurts a bit more. A loss to Nebraska when a win pushed you into bowl play is as bad as it gets. The Cornhuskers put the clamps down on the K-State passing game in a 17-3 win.

Tidbit Fifty years after it was popularized and thirty years after it was left for dead, the acronym EMAW – Every Man A Wildcat – has returned with a vengeance on the campus of Kansas State. The phrase has its roots in the 1950s, but according to the university Web site was phased out in the 1970s because of its gender specificity. How about EPAW? Every Person A Wildcat? ESAW (student)?

Tidbit (futility edition) From 1935 through Snyder’s arrival in 1989, the Wildcats went 137-445-18, a .243 winning percentage. Only once in Major League Baseball history has the league combined for a worst batting average then .243: 1968, the year of the pitcher, when the A.L. and N.L. combined to bat .237. The mound was lowered the next year, if you remember.

Former players in the N.F.L.

20 WR Brandon Banks (Washington), LB Monty Beisel (Arizona), RB Rock Cartwright (Oakland), OT Jeromey Clary (San Diego), RB Thomas Clayton (New England), LB Zac Diles (Houston), WR Yamon Figurs (Oakland), DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald (Kansas City), QB Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay), DE Rob Jackson (Washington Redskins), LB Ben Leber (Minnesota), C Nick Leckey (New Orleans), OG Ryan Lilja (Kansas City), TE Jeron Mastrud (Tampa Bay), S Jon McGraw (Kansas City), CB Joshua Moore (Chicago), WR Jordy Nelson (Green Bay), CB Terence Newman (Dallas), RB Darren Sproles (San Diego), LB Reggie Walker (Arizona).

Arbitrary top five list

Kinds of sun in Kansas
1. Sunshine.
2. Sunflowers.
3. Sons-of-bitches.
4. Unknown.
5. Unknown.

Coaching

Bill Snyder (William Jewell ’63), who holds a 142-74-1 mark over two separate stints as the Kansas State 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. As noted, 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 9-3-1 and set a team record for points in a season (312). That year marked the first of 11 nine-win or better seasons in 12 years for the Wildcats, including a stretch from 1997 to 2003 of six 11-win seasons in seven years, making K-State only the second program in F.B.S. history to have such an extended streak of tremendous play. In 1998, an historic win over rival Nebraska pushed K-State to the top spot in The Associated Press poll, the first time the team stood atop the college football landscape. That year – which ended with the Wildcats at No. 4 nationally – might have been the apex of 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 2004 season — mutual, by all accounts — to step down, leading K.S.U. to hire the ill-suited Ron Prince. Three years later, and 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, was Snyder reclaim the magic of his first term? Yes to the first part, somewhat mixed on the second. Time will tell: until Snyder falls flat, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Less pressing, at least in 2010, is how long can Snyder stalk the sideline before again stepping off into retirement. One thing is certain: the Hall of Fame is waiting, whenever he’s ready to call it a career.

Players to watch

The situation at quarterback isn’t pretty. Little has changed at the position: as at this point last year, Carson Coffman holds the edge in the race for the starting job. Of course, Coffman lost his hold on the starting role four games into last fall, with his job falling to transfer Grant Gregory. With Gregory gone, Coffman will be pushed for snaps by Collin Klein and Samuel Lamur, neither of whom brings any extensive action into the season. Obviously, neither of the latter duo brings more than potential to the table: Klein has the build and arm to be a solid passer, while Lamur has the best athleticism of the bunch. Thanks to a solid spring, Coffman holds a comfortable lead over both Klein and Lamur; plenty can change, of course, and both should be ready to step into meaningful roles if Coffman stumbles.

The offensive line should be a real strength in 2010. Four starters return, with the lone loss that of all-conference left tackle Nick Stringer, a three-year starter. Stringer is a big loss, but I like the depth and experience Kansas State has up front. The interior of the line in particularly good shape: seniors Zach Kendall, Wade Weibert and Kenneth Mayfield will start across the line from left to right guard. Depth along the inside of the line will come from Trevor Viers and Colten Freeze, two experienced hands with starting experience. While junior Clyde Aufner returns at right tackle, Kansas State will have a hole on the blind side, where it will attempt to replace Stringer’s large shoes. Zach Hanson should be considered the favorite to start at left tackle, though a JUCO transfer like Manase Foketi could use the opportunity to land immediate playing time in his first year on campus.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s running back Daniel Thomas, the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. He was absolutely superb last fall, his first season of action after joining the Wildcats as a JUCO transfer. Thomas was an immediate success, rushing for at least 100 yards in each of his first two games en route to 1,265 yards on the year, the best total in the Big 12 and the fourth-highest output in school history. What can he do for an encore? At least match those numbers, thanks to his experience and a stellar offensive front. Thomas will also likely land more carries: the Wildcats must replace his solid reserve, Keithen Valentine, who rushed for 357 yards and 6 scores in a secondary role. Thomas is the engine of this offense; he’s also the most valuable player in the conference.

The front seven of the K.S.U. defense must replace some solid pieces, and enters the season as the biggest question mark — outside of quarterback — on the roster. The Wildcats will have their hands full replacing the production of end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who paced the team in tackles for loss and sacks a season ago. It will help to land a full season from sophomore Brandon Harold, who after playing well as a freshman in 2008 was forced to redshirt last fall due to injuries. Senior Antonio Felder, a former JUCO transfer, will man the opposite end after making 30 tackles (7 for loss) and 3 sacks a season ago. Raphael Guidry returns at tackle, with senior Prizell Brown, a four-game starter last fall, expected to play a larger role. Locating depth will be key; as always, expect some JUCO arrivals to play their way into the mix.

The Kansas State secondary will be keyed by three able safeties, led by junior Tysyn Hartman. He earned all-conference honors in 2009, thanks to his 54 tackles and team-leading five interceptions. Hartman will man the free safety spot, with a pair of former JUCO transfers holding the remaining two starting roles in Kansas State’s 4-2-5 look. Both had an immediate impact: strong safety Emmanuel Lamur finished with a team-leading 68 tackles and 3 interceptions, and rover Troy Butler added another 46 stops, five for loss.

There’s more experience at cornerback. Senior Stephen Harrison made eight starts last fall, finishing second on the team with 11 pass breakups, while junior David Garrett made four starts. JUCO additions like Darious Thomas and Matthew Pearson will also figure into the mix at cornerback; Pearson, who arrived in time to participate during spring practice, could leapfrog past two of the more experienced defensive backs to earn a starting role.

Kansas State’s base defense — that 4-2-5 scheme — limits the depth needed at linebacker, though not the overall importance of the position. Both of last season’s starters must be replaced, though as along the defensive line, the Wildcats will promote reserves with meaningful game experience. One such player is junior Alex Hrebec, who though built like an undersized defensive end has been productive on the strong side. He made three starts at that spot last fall, making 32 tackles (4 for loss). Kadero Terrell, a former JUCO transfer who missed last fall due to injury, is another option on the strong side; Terrell could also see time in the middle, where senior Kevin Rohleder is in line to hold the starting job.

Position battles to watch

They said it couldn't be done. But can Snyder rebuild this receiver corps on the fly?

Wide receiver Kansas State will have a new look at receiver in 2010, thanks to the departure of a handful of key contributors — most notably Brandon Banks, the diminutive receiver and returner who served as the team’s lone dangerous option in the passing game. He, along with departed starters Attrail Snipes and tight end Jeron Mastrud, did the vast majority of the work in this often inept Kansas State passing attack; however, I like what Kansas State brings to the table at the position. This is despite losing Lamark Brown, the former four-star recruit who opted to transfer late in February. The Wildcats have gained far more to transfer than they’ve lost: Chris Harper, who should have signed with Kansas State in the first place, joins the program after a year at Oregon; and Brodrick Smith comes to Manhattan from Minnesota. These two talented pass-catchers will be counted on for immediate production, potentially even step into the spots left vacated by Banks and Snipes. Harper, in my opinion, is a future star. Adding depth are seniors Adrian Hilburn and Aubrey Quarles, a pair of former JUCO transfers, while sophomore Tramaine Thompson, like Banks a shifty, talented pint-size receiver, should play a major role. The Wildcats did lose some talent, to be sure. I like what they return, and what players are poised to step into the rotation.

Game(s) to watch

Kansas State ends the year at Missouri and Colorado, two of the bigger conference games on its schedule. The opening of the season looks nice, with the first five games coming either at home or on a neutral field. The Oct. 7 date with Nebraska, a national broadcast, will be must-see television.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I have no doubt that Kansas State will be better in 2010 than it was a year ago. Not tremendously better — not atop the Big 12 North, let alone the top of the conference — but certainly in bowl play, and in third-place in the North. There are some concerns, to be sure: quarterback, yet again, is an issue; I like the potential of the receiver corps, but the group remains unproven; and the front seven on defense has holes to fill. Due to these worries, I can’t rank the Wildcats any higher than this spot. Yet I’m incredulous as to how anyone could overlook this team. The schedule works out nicely, beginning with five straight games to open the year on friendly turf, though the tilts with U.C.L.A., U.C.F. and Nebraska will be tough. Kansas State draws Baylor and Oklahoma State — as well as Texas — out of the Big 12 South, with the Cowboys coming to Manhattan. Most importantly, I have no doubt that with another year under Snyder, this team knows what the Hall of Fame coach expects: hard work, tough play and an even tougher mentality. This team, like last year’s squad, will be more than a nuisance: they’ll be a pest, and will make a handful of more talented teams scratch and claw for every point. Anything less than a return to bowl play — after a three-year absence, by the way — would be shocking.

Dream season Underestimate Snyder at your own risk: Kansas State goes 9-3, 6-2 in the Big 12, and wrangles a second-place finish in the North division.

Nightmare season The Wildcats take a step back from last season, dropping from six wins to only four, two coming in conference play.

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.comGo Powercat and KSUFans.com. For a blog’s take, visit Bring On the Cats. That blog, always worth a read, hasn’t eviscerated my rankings in more than two years.

Up Next

Who is No. 58? Our next program has the most wins of any team in the nation’s youngest conference.

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Comments

  1. Rookierookie says:

    MTSU.

    Paul: You’re a machine. That’s like four or five in a row for you.

  2. PurplePhotoshopper says:

    QUOTE: Low point Every loss hurts. A loss to Nebraska hurts a bit more. A home loss even more. A home loss to Nebraska when a win pushed you into bowl play is as bad as it gets. The Cornhuskers put the clamps down on the K-State passing game in a 17-3 win.

    **The game was in Lincoln in 2009

  3. SFla Irish says:

    Youngest conference is MWC so…BYU? Actually, Utah has 100 more wins so I’m going with Utes.

  4. SFla Irish says:

    Wait, MTSU? The Sun Belt has been around since 1975, ergo, not “the nation’s youngest conference”.

  5. SFla Irish says:

    Ok, I will nuance my statement by noting that the Sun Belt did not sponsor football until this decade, so from that perspective they are younger than the MWC although the conference has been in existence since 1976.

  6. Jim Narby says:

    #59 is nebraska

  7. Zaboo says:

    …And there’s Jim Narby again.

    He’s bound to get it eventually…

  8. Jim Narby says:

    i’m surprised nebraska has made it this far.

  9. Reno says:

    Who is No. 59? Our next program has the most wins of any team in the nation’s youngest conference.

    Kansas State. Dunno who 58 is though.

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