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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. 61: Kansas State

The Power Towel has been replaced by white, scratchy towels worn down by consistent use at Bill Snyder’s punishing football practices. You don’t need a Power Towel, and even if you have one, it’s not vital that you bring it to every game. Snyder doesn’t care for that stuff, as he’s a coach whose lone surrender to pomp and pageantry came when, you know, they named the stadium after him — and he seemed pretty uncomfortable with that whole thing. Snyder’s not just old-school: he’s one of that school’s founding members, and what he brings to the table is just what the doctor ordered for a Kansas State program that had forgotten nearly all of his valuable lessons during his three-year absence. You know those 14 bowl trips in school history? Snyder’s responsible for 12 of them, as well as for 12 of the program’s 15 winning seasons since 1955. I’ve said it countless times before, but it bears repeating: there’s only one man fit to win at Kansas State, and his name is Bill Snyder.

Conference
Big 12

Location
Manhattan, Kan.

Nickname
Wildcats

Returning starters
12 (5 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 59

2010 record
(7-6, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 59

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    E. Kentucky
  • Sept. 17
    Kent St.
  • Sept. 24
    at Miami (Fla.)
  • Oct. 1
    Baylor
  • Oct. 8
    Missouri
  • Oct. 15
    at Texas Tech
  • Oct. 22
    at Kansas
  • Oct. 29
    Oklahoma
  • Nov. 5
    at Oklahoma St.
  • Nov. 12
    Texas A&M
  • Nov. 19
    at Texas
  • Nov. 26
    Iowa St.

Last year’s prediction

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. I can’t rank the Wildcats any higher than this spot. Yet I’m incredulous as to how anyone could overlook this team. 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.

2010 recap

In a nutshell Kansas State has simply been a different team since Snyder returned to town prior to the 2009 season. The Wildcats have been tougher, physically and mentally, and this toughness has revealed itself in a roster that has not suffered any — or many, at least — of the sort of meltdowns that defined the tenure of Snyder’s predecessor. We did see one change between 2009 and 2010: Snyder played it safe in 2009, knowing he couldn’t afford to take chances against much of the schedule; last fall, knowing he had a super offense, Snyder opened it up. The Wildcats scored 437 points, a program-high since 2003, led the Big 12 in rushing scores and finished fourth in yards per play, the ultimate measure of an offense’s success. It was this offense that carried the Wildcats past U.C.L.A., that absolutely ravaged rival Kansas by 52 points in Lawrence and that bombed Texas, 39-14, for the program’s third straight win over the Longhorns. Unfortunately, the defense was a major disappointment — especially against the run, where K-State ranked 119th nationally. It was the defense that failed against Baylor, Colorado and Syracuse, and it was this defense that pushed the Wildcats to 7-6, not the offense.

High point Looking back, the best win a 17-14 victory over U.C.F. to cap non-conference play. That was impressive. In terms of smiles, nothing comes even close to the Oct. 14 trip to Lawrence, home of the Jayhawks: 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, 31-0 at halftime, 52-0 heading into the fourth. Ear-to-ear smiles. Message board domination. Bragging rights. This one had it all — any fan base should be so lucky as to experience such a lopsided rivalry win. Texas comes in second, but it’s a distant second. How many K-State fans recorded that K.U. win and have watched it in the months since the season ended?

Low point The Wildcats were plagued by defensive lapses. Through no fault of the offense, Kansas State lost to Baylor (47-42), Missouri (38-28), Colorado (44-36) — that one worst of all — and Syracuse (36-34), the latter in the Pinstripe Bowl. Each of those losses stung, but I’m of mind to say a nationally-televised 48-13 home loss to Nebraska on Oct. 7 hurt most of all. The Wildcats, 4-0 at the time, allowed 587 yards of offense in what might be the final meeting between the two former conference rivals.

Tidbit Snyder is at least 11 years older than each of his fellow Big 12 coaches; Mack Brown, born in August of 1951, is 11 years and 10 months younger than Snyder, who was born on Oct. 7, 1939. Then comes Gary Pinkel, who was born on April 27, 1952, followed by Tommy Tuberville, who is a shade less than 15 years younger than Snyder. The rest: Snyder has a bit more than 15 years on Mike Sherman; 16 years on Art Briles — I was surprised to see that Briles, who looks 40, is actually 56; 21 years on Bob Stoops; 23 years on Turner Gill; and 28 years on both Paul Rhoads and Mike Gundy. Snyder had already earned his master’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University by the time Rhoads and Gundy were brought into the world.

Tidbit (family connections edition) I don’t want to harp on this age thing, because it’s pretty clear that Snyder still has the goods even as he nears his 72nd birthday. But there are two pretty interesting family ties to point out on Kansas State’s 2011 roster. One: Snyder’s grandson, Tate, is a redshirt freshman linebacker. Two: incoming freshman wide receiver Tyler Lockett is the son of program great Kevin Lockett, who played for Snyder from 1993-96, and the nephew of Aaron Lockett, who was a Wildcat from 1998-2001.

Tidbit (athletic excellence edition) K-State is proud — and rightfully so — of its athletic achievements during the 2010-11 calendar year. The university is one of three in the country to achieve the following, according to the K-State athletic department, from September through June: reach a bowl game in football, put both its men’s and women’s basketball teams into the N.C.A.A. tournament, have the baseball team reach an N.C.A.A. regional, have the men’s and women’s track teams place in the top 25 at the N.C.A.A. championships — I’m taking K-State’s word for that one — and have at least one singles participant at the N.C.A.A. tennis championships. The other two were Florida State and Texas A&M.

Tidbit (dark days edition) I’m sorry to do this to the knowledgeable K-State fan, but the question deserves to be asked: Who’s the worst coach in Kansas State history? Is it Stan Parrish? Ellis Rainsberger? Hobbs Adams? Sam Francis? Ralph Graham? Doug Weaver? Ron Prince? Well, each of those coaches – minus Prince, which was a joke – won less than 18.5 percent of his games during the program’s dark days, paced by Francis’s one-year mark of 0-10 in 1947. Next comes Parrish, who went 2-30-1, a winning percentage of 7.6, from 1986-88. My pick is Weaver, who went 8-60-1 from 1960-66 while scoring more than nine points – and this is amazing – only 17 times in seven years. Absolutely astounding. Weaver’s Wildcats were shutout six times in 1962, scoring only 39 points in 10 games. In Parrish’s favor is this one, key factor: Snyder was hired as his replacement.

Former players in the N.F.L.

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

Arbitrary top five list

Overlooked B.C.S. conference coaching jobs since 1990
1. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (1989-2005; 2009-present).
2. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (2001-present).
3. Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin (1990-2005).
4. Dick Tomey, Arizona (1987-2000).
5. Jeff Tedford, California (2002-present).

Coaching

Bill Snyder (William Jewell ’63), who holds a 149-80-1 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. 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 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 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, 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, will Snyder be able to reclaim the magic of his first term? Only time will tell. Less pressing, at least in 2011, 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

Snyder has gotten behind junior quarterback Collin Klein, not quite going so far as to name him the starter but making a number of statements that point towards Klein being Carson Coffman’s replacement come September. Klein played in 10 games last fall as a reserve, typically coming in as a run-first threat (432 yards, 6 scores) but not going much through the air. His running ability will continue to be an asset, but Klein must become more comfortable throwing the football; he made strides in that regard during the spring, according to reports. The Wildcats have two more options in former Boston College transfer Justin Tuggle and senior Sammuel Lamur, with Tuggle the more likely of that pair to unseat Klein as the starter. But Tuggle did not fare well during the spring, leading most to think he’s not quite ready to take on the Big 12.

It wasn’t the prettiest transfer, but after a very public battle with Tennessee, running back Bryce Brown transferred to the program he probably should have signed with in the first place. In doing so, Brown takes on the monumental challenge of replacing Daniel Thomas, the nation’s most underrated running back as a senior. There’s no discounting Brown’s talent, which led him to be the most sought-after running back in the nation as a high school senior. And you certainly can’t put a value on his sort of speed.

You can question, however — and this may just be until we see him in a game situation in September — whether Brown will be able to bear the load in the running game, as Thomas did over his two seasons in Manhattan. That’s primarily because we haven’t seen Brown show his wares as a 20-carry back; he was the backup during his sole season in Knoxville. Again, no doubting the talent. But let’s see if Brown can have a Thomas-like impact. His primary backups will be sophomore John Hubert, who rushed for 25 yards in a reserve role last fall, and freshman DeMarcus Robinson.

Much will depend on Klein, but the Wildcats do have some weapons to work with in the passing game. The key is finding a go-to target, a role filled admirably by Aubrey Quarles in 2010. Maybe Chris Harper, the former Oregon transfer, can be that guy. He made an impact a year ago, his first with K-State after taking a redshirt in 2010: 24 receptions for 325 yards and 4 touchdowns — the latter totals both good for second on the team — to go with 47 yards on the ground. K-State will also welcome back sophomore Tramain Thompson (19 for 258), who made a surprisingly large impact as a freshman. Broderick Smith (14 for 191, 3 scores) rounds out the top three. Can the Wildcats tout experience beyond this threesome? Not yet. But this team will be run-first, so going five deep with experienced receivers really isn’t the most important thing in the world.

Goal one for this defense: for goodness’ sake, please do a better job against the run. This isn’t quite the Big 12 of the recent past, seeing that several former run-and-gun teams have tilted more towards an even split running and passing; see Texas, which wants a physical ground game, or even Texas Tech, which ran the ball nearly 130 more times in 2010 than the year before. So it’s absolutely vital that the Wildcats button up the nation’s second-worst run defense.

It’ll be up to senior tackles Ray Kibble (30 tackles) and Raphael Guidry (36, 2.5 sacks) to step up their games. I can’t imagine this pair not starting, but it’s also imperative that the Wildcats find two or three reserve interior linemen. Senior Payton Kirk and junior Javonta Boyd are there, but I wonder if this group — four of the top five interior guys from 2010 — has the ability to make the sort of massive one-year turnaround K-State needs. Interior defensive line coach Mo Latimore has been through it all over his 28 seasons in Manhattan, but he really has his work cut out for him in 2011.

The Wildcats look far better at end, though it would be great if junior Brandon Harold (41 tackles, 2 sacks) could recapture his freshman form. Look for three additions from the JUCO ranks — Adam Davis, Jordan Voekler and Meshek Williams — to play major roles. Davis and Voekler arrived in 2010; Voekler played minimal snaps while Davis missed the year with a neck injury. While short on starting experience, K-State does have some talent at end, with Snyder himself signaling Voekler out for his improved play during spring. The latter trio did a nice job getting to the quarterback on the JUCO level, especially Davis.

Arthur Brown will join his brother in Manhattan after starting his career at Miami (Fla.), and like Bryce will step right into a starting role. But will it be in the middle or on the strong side? K-State’s decision in this matter should dictate which three linebackers get starting nods. Let’s say Brown starts in the middle: that would probably put converted safety Emmanuel Lamur (46 tackles, 1 interception) and Tre Walker (47 tackles) on the outside. If Brown goes to the strong side, Alex Hrebec (77 tackles) — who missed some time in the spring due to injury — will be in the middle with Walker on the weak side. But Jarrell Childs, if healthy, needs to find some playing time, so there’s plenty of depth. We may have to wait until September to see how things shake out.

One thing we know: K-State will use far more three-linebacker sets than in the past. The move away from a 4-2-5 look to a more prototypical defensive alignment was made in an effort to beef up the rush defense, and having a seventh man in the box at all times will certainly help. It also helps to have K-State’s sort of depth at linebacker, as the Wildcats go five or six deep at the position.

Can JUCO transfer Nigel Malone step right into a starting spot at cornerback? K-State sure hopes he does, as Malone could ameliorate any lingering concerns over the loss of starters Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison. If Malone isn’t ready to start from day one in the Big 12, the Wildcats could turn to another addition, Allen Chapman, a teammate of Malone’s on the JUCO ranks – though Chapman, unlike Malone, was not on campus for spring practice. One thing is sure: whomever grabs a starting role will line up opposite David Garrett (92 tackles, 15 for loss), who excelled as K-State’s fifth defensive back in 2010. Garrett does have experience at cornerback, having started five of K-State’s first six games before Harrison took on a starting role.

Tysyn Hartman (86 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Ty Zimmerman (74 tackles, team-best 3 picks) return at safety, though it’s hard to say that both will retain their starting roles. Zimmerman should, thanks to a great freshman season last fall, but will it be at free or strong safety? The Wildcats could keep the status quo and have Hartman at free, Zimmerman at strong, or they could go with former San Jose State transfer Tanner Burns start at strong, moving Zimmerman over. I think that makes sense. If you couldn’t tell by going through this section, there’s a whole lot in the air with this defense – Snyder rarely plays his cards by releasing a depth chart before he has to, but things seem even less settled than usual.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line We’ll see some growing pains up front, as Kansas State returns its four leading tackles but must rebuild from scratch along the interior. Departed starters Zach Kendall, Kenneth Mayfield and Wade Weibert didn’t just lead on the field but also off it, and that sort of leadership is always the toughest to replace. Making matters worse is the youth and inexperience at both guard spots and center: the depth chart is littered with freshmen and sophomores, making someone like senior right guard Colten Freeze such an integral part of this new-look line. Freeze is the only returning interior lineman with any meaningful game experience; he started a game in 2009 and was a reserve a year ago. It is absolutely imperative that he step up, not only on the field but as a mentor of sorts to teammates still learning the college game. Sophomore Keenan Taylor and redshirt freshman Tomasi Mariner are battling it out at left guard, with Taylor holding an edge heading into the summer. Former Wyoming transfer Nick Puetz is also in the mix at both guard spots, though he’s currently riding behind Freeze on the right side. The biggest worry, in my mind, is center: K-State could opt for either redshirt freshman B.J. Finney or JUCO transfer Shaun Simon, and while Finney did a nice job on the scout team last fall neither has the sort of experience you covet in the middle of the line. At least the Wildcats can feel secure at tackle. It’ll be Manase Foketi on the left side, Clyde Aufner on the right, and Cornelius Lucas, Zach Hanson and Kaleb Drinkgern as the leading reserves. There’s enough depth at tackle to ask the question: Couldn’t one — maybe Ethan Douglas, maybe one of the above — move inside and challenge for snaps at guard?

Game(s) to watch

The three very winnable Big 12 games: Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State. The Wildcats simply cannot afford to lose one of those. Look for K-State to be underdogs for much of the conference slate, even when at home. Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas A&M come to Manhattan, and it would be huge for this team to get a win against one of that trio — Missouri seems the most likely.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell If anyone other than Snyder were running this team, I wouldn’t think the Wildcats capable of getting back to bowl play. Then it’s good thing he’s back in Manhattan, no? You can write off Kansas State for a multitude of reasons – and I’ll get there in a second – but you must absolutely respect the fact that Snyder will have this team gutting it out every Saturday, which makes this team extremely dangerous to its more talented Big 12 opposition. Now, the issues: the interior of the offensive line needs real work; we’re still not sure if Klein can be the passer this offense needs him to be; we’re also not sure if Brown can step into some large shoes at running back; and the front seven on defense needs to make a drastic improvement overnight. So there are more questions than answers nearly everywhere but along the sidelines – but it’s the team’s strength in the latter category that has me convinced that K-State will at least get back to bowl play, if not again finish the regular season with another seven wins. 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.

Dream season The Wildcats don’t turn the clock all the way back to 2003, the last time the program won 11 games, but Snyder leads this team to a 9-3 finish, 7-2 in the Big 12.

Nightmare season Snyder just doesn’t have the horses, especially on defense: 4-8, 3-6.

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.

Word Count

Through 60 (60!) teams 175,498.

Up Next

Who is No. 60? We’re halfway there. As always, thanks for stopping by. As for tomorrow’s program: it is in the midst of its best three-year stretch since 1997-99.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Newt says:

    Could be Southern Methodist…seems like a logical placing right about here.

  2. Ezra says:

    60 is too low for SMU.

  3. Ed says:

    No. 59 is Southern Miss.

  4. Ed says:

    Wait i mean Number 60

  5. Joel says:

    Northwestern, I think

  6. wildcat6 says:

    @Joel, can’t be Northwestern. 1997-99 were brutal years – well, at least 1998-99 were – after the glory of 1995-96.

    Southern Miss might be correct, but they’ve had a winning record and gone bowling in every year since the 1990′s.

  7. M Meyer says:

    This is too low for Arizona, right? Otherwise they’d fit.

  8. BobJ says:

    “If anyone other than Snyder was running this team, . . .”

    Wouldn’t, “If anyone other than Snyder were running this team,” be more correct?

    (My wife hates it when I do this.)

    Paul: You know, I really have no clue. Can “anyone” mean an individual coach? if so, I thought “was,” not “were,” would be correct. But I really don’t know. Not good at that stuff.

  9. MattD says:

    Bob, “anyone” is a singular indefinite pronoun (hence the “one” at the end). Per the rules of subject-verb agreement, it needs a singular verb. “Was” is the correct verb in this case.

    Sorry, I was a grammar teacher for 3 years.

    Paul: Never apologize for being grammatically correct or punctual, in my opinion. Those are two things that keep civilization from spiraling out of control.

  10. BobJ says:

    MattD, I would defer to your expertise, but I don’t see this as an indicative statement, and thus a matter of subject-verb agreement. The statement is a condition contrary to fact,

    “If anyone other than Snyder were running this team, [but no one else is] . . .”,

    requiring the past subjunctive “were” to be used in a “were. . .would” construction.

    Let’s turn it around. “Were anyone other than Snyder running this team, . . .” Yep.

    “Was anyone other than Snyder running this team, . . .” Nope.

    I am getting excited, by the way, about the prospect that college football might be the only game in town this fall.

  11. DanD says:

    Paul:
    One tiny, very minor nitpick (under Coaching section): The Wildcats went 9-2-1 in 1993 (losses to Nebraska and Iowa State and a tie with Colorado). As a senior at KSU that year I remember that season well.

    Paul: Updated above, thanks. That must have been a great senior year. Hopefully you don’t remember that much, if you know what I mean.

  12. Mark says:

    @Paul and BobJ

    Re. “Was” vs. “were,” it’s not a question of singular vs. plural. You’re speculating about something, so you should be using the subjunctive “mood,” which would be “were” regardless of the number of the subject.

  13. JT says:

    Paul: In the first section under “Players to Watch,” Klien will be replacing Carson Coffman, not Chase. Chase is Carson’s older brother and played TE at Missouri.
    Thanks! Good write-up!

  14. KSUCATS#1FAN says:

    goemaw.com is the best source for KSU CATS information. FYI.

  15. Jason says:

    I’m not sure who the worst coach is in KSU history. It truly has a long list vying for the title. On the other end of coaching Bill Snyder is the greatest football coach in the world for what he accomplished at K-State!

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