By Wendell Barnhouse
MANHATTAN, Kansas - Substance over style, function over flash. That's how you sum up Kansas State football with Bill Snyder as coach.
The Wildcats, as the 74-year-old Snyder likes to say, "tend to their knitting." For the younger folks, that translates to "take care o' bidness." The predictions, the analysis, the 24-7-365 talk about college football doesn't penetrate the cone of silence around the football team.
"Pick us to finish sixth? Pfffft."
"Pick us third? Don't care."
"Write us off after a 2-4 start with a loss to an FCS team? Whatever."
For the record, the media predicts K-State to finish third in the Big 12 this season, behind Oklahoma and Baylor. FYI, the Wildcats were picked sixth, sixth and eighth the previous three seasons and finished higher each season.
"We've always been told and always believed that it doesn't matter where people rank us," said senior linebacker and co-captain Jonathan Truman, one of four former walk-ons who now start. "It's what we make people rank us at the end of the year based on our success. We just prepare and take it step by step.
"We're not worried about what other people have to say."
You can't talk long about Kansas State before you discuss the pass-catch combo of seniors Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett.
Snyder has a track record of having quarterbacks improve as seniors after starting full-time as juniors. If that happens with Waters, he could have a monster season. No Snyder-coached QB who started as a junior had better accuracy, averaged more yards per attempt or threw for more TDs than Waters.
"His level of confidence has grown immensely," Snyder said of Waters, who came to K-State last season from junior college. "That experience from last year benefited him greatly, as it should. We saw the benefits of his work toward the latter part of the season. Hopefully it continues."
Lockett, one of the best and most-productive deep threats in the country, is poised to break the receiving records set by his father Kevin.
"He's an extremely hard worker," Snyder said of Lockett. "I'm so proud of his attitude and his value system, and part of that guides him to do anything and everything that he can to get himself a little bit better every day. He's a young guy that's got all of his marbles in the right place."
The challenges for this K-State team will include finding a reliable running back, developing other receiving threats to compliment Lockett, finding two new starters on the offensive line plus replacing seven starters on defense.
In other words, there's still work to be done.
"It's like your folks told you: You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it and work hard," said Snyder, who first came to Manhattan 25 years ago and took over the nation's worst team. "It takes more than hard work, but there's some truth to that. These young guys believe in the things our program believes in."
Coach: Bill Snyder, 22 seasons at Kansas State.
2013: 8-5, overall, 5-4 in Big 12.
Bowl: Defeated Michigan, 31-14, in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Returning starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense.
Key players: Senior QB Jake Waters, senior WR Tyler Lockett, senior DE Ryan Mueller, senior C B.J. Finney, senior LB Jonathan Truman, soph. FB Glenn Gronkowski, senior RB DeMarcus Robinson, junior OL Cody Whitehair, senior WR Curry Sexton.
Three Points To Ponder
1. The defense must replace seven starters, including three in the secondary. Defensive end Ryan Mueller (62 tackles, 11.5 sacks) is one of the best in the Big 12 while senior Jonathan Truman had 89 tackles last season and is the only starter returning in the linebacker unit. Randall Evans is the only returning starter in the secondary, which needs to replace the stellar play and leadership of safety Ty Zimmerman.
2. While Tyler Lockett is one of the best receivers in the nation, Kansas State needs more production from a group of players that are mostly unproven. Senior Curry Sexton had 39 catches for 446 yards last season. Junior Kyle Klein, the younger brother of former Heisman finalist Collin Klein, saw limited action last season. Junior-college transfer Andre Davis along with sophomores Deante Burton, Lucas Munds and Steven West will all need to contribute.
3. Last season Kansas State often played two quarterbacks until Jake Waters took over as the starter. Daniel Sams, a dynamic runner, decided to transfer to an FCS school so he could play this season. That means there is uncertainty when it comes to Waters' backup. Third-year sophomore Joe Hubener and redshirt freshman Jesse Ertz have had time to acclimate themselves to the system but only Hubener has seen a few plays in a game.
Senior center B.J. Finney, a four-year starter:
"Our goal as a unit is to be the most dominant offensive line in the Big 12. If we can attain that goal, then we're going to be pretty good. It's just coming in and improving every day, small things like hand placement and footwork, that kind of thing. If we can attain the small goals, then we'll attain the big goal eventually."
Numbers To Note
K-State became just the eighth team during the Bowl Championship Series era to begin 2-4 yet win eight games. Let's recall one more thing: Each of K-State's five losses came by 10 points or less. … The Wildcats were minus-nine in turnover margin in their five losses and plus-nine their eight wins, which helps sum up nicely Snyder's blueprint for offensive success. Since the start of the 2010 season, K-State is 4-11 when losing the turnover margin and 32-5 when tied or ahead. … From 2004 through 2010 – Snyder's last two years of his first stint, three years under Ron Prince and Snyder's first two seasons back – K-State went 39-45. Over the last three seasons, the Wildcats are 29-10 including 20-7 in Big 12 games. … All five of last season's losses came by 10 or fewer points. … The Wildcats have entered a season ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 three times and each season finished an average of nine spots higher than their preseason ranking.
|Aug. 30||Stephen F. Austin|
|Sept. 6||at Iowa State*|
|Oct. 4||Texas Tech*|
|Oct. 18||at Oklahoma*|
|Nov. 1||Oklahoma State|
|Nov. 8||at TCU*|
|Nov. 20||at West Virginia*|
|Dec. 6||at Baylor*|