Crossfire Q&A: Kansas State

It wouldn't be Kansas State Week without bringing some Wildcats aboard, and it certainly wouldn't be the Unholy Alliance if our SBN brethren from Bring On The Cats didn't stop by for a Q&A. Today, we welcome both TB and Panjandrum from BOTC. On to the questions!

RMN: Normally I'd ask for a recap of the previous season and offseason, but we don't have that kind of time. Let me ask this: What is the expectation of success for Snyder? Is it something as intangible as "progress," or is there a finite number of wins KSU fans need to see?

TB: Progress is plenty for me. I hate to compare K-State to Nebraska in any way, but in a lot of ways, Bill Callahan and Ron Prince are comparable. While I don't think we need to merely "try harder" to succeed, it would be nice to see a defense that lines up properly, knows its assignments, and can at least attempt to make a sound tackle. We'd love to have, as Pan so elequently put it, an offense that isn't based on "screen left, screen right, dump to the tight end, and run into the guard's ass."

Snyder's teams are notoriously slow starters, so the early going could be rough. However, it was usually pretty clear that K-State's players started to "get it" as the season went on, and that's one big thing we'll be looking for this season. If the offense starts clicking toward the end, and the defense starts looking like a competent FBS unit, I'll be OK with that.

Panjandrum: Progress is totally subjective right now, so the number of wins and losses, while probably indicative of progress, isn't what I'm looking for. I simply want to see a team (specifically a defense) that looks like it knows what in the hell it's doing. Sound tackling, sound blocking, and some semblance of roster management are probably good things to look for. I just want to feel like I'm watching a football game and not a visual metaphor for anal rape... I like to set the bar high.

RMN: Handicap the quarterback situation for us. Is it going to be Carson Coffman's team? Is there going to be a lot of stock placed in quarterback play, or are the Cats going to rely on an almost as murky running back corps?

TB:  Carson Coffman is the prohibitive favorite heading into fall camp. He has the most experience of all the options -- even if that isn't saying much -- and he has actually played fairly well in mop-up duty. That said, Snyder is a known tinkerer, especially at quarterback, and if it's clear that Coffman doesn't have it, expect to see Grant Gregory or Daniel Thomas see some time. Even if things work out well for Coffman, I would expect to see Thomas in there to mix things up and get him some experience. Snyder is an offensive genius, and I'm sure there are a few thoughts rattling around his head about using Thomas and Brandon Banks in the backfield to give opposing DCs some nightmares. Well, maybe not nightmares, but at least unpleasant thoughts as they sit in their offices and try to figure out what the old man is going to do.

Panjandrum:I agree with TB for the most part. After trying to observe what's been said in interviews, the media guide, and watching the Spring Game a few times online, I really think Coffman will be the starter for the entire year. I haven't always held that belief, but I think he will. Daniel Thomas will probably be used in some special formations, but given that KSU has the majority of its talent at the skill positions (namely TE and WR), I think a consistent 'game manager' is what Snyder needs.

Coffman seems like that kind of player. It will be his job to get the ball to Brandon Banks, Lamark Brown, Daniel Thomas, Jeron Mastrud, etc. If he can simply distribute the ball, the Cats should be in good shape offensively.

More questions after the jump!

RMN: What's expected from a KSU defense that's one year removed from finishing last in the Big 12 in total defense?

TB: In a word, improvement. Vic Koenning directed a Clemson unit that finished 18th last season in total defense. I've watched a few YouTube videos of Clemson's defense last year, and they're fast, they hit, and they force turnovers. Now, I'll bet my dick to a dollar that Koenning had a deeper roster at Clemson than he'll have at K-State this season, but as I mentioned above, a group of coaches who can teach the players to hit and wrap up and understand how to construct a game plan for Big 12 offenses would be a vast improvement. Further, we do have some fairly talented players on the defensive side of the ball, with Brandon Harold, Joshua Moore, and Jeffrey Fitzgerald.

Finally, on the defensive side, I'm reminded of something Dr. Saturday wrote about Nebraska before last season that I think is applicable to K-State this season (sorry, can't find the link). Nebraska's defense in 2007, much like K-State's defense in 2008, was historically bad. Not just kind of not so good. Full-blown suckitude. With better coaching this season, there almost has to be a regression toward the mean, if not a regression all the way to the mean. Even if we "only" improve to, say, 90th in total defense, that's still an improvement of almost 30 spots in the rankings. That means at least one and maybe two more stops per game, and while that's not going to be enough to win 10 games, nobody expects to win 10 games. If we win one or two more this season than we did last season, the year will be a resounding success.

Panjandrum:Honestly, I'd be shocked if we didn't see major improvement. Comparing Vic Koenning to Tim Tibesar is like comparing Einstein to Forrest Gump. Now, that said, it's not like KSU is going to jump into the top twenty-five or anything like that, but if KSU can find a way to sneak into the 50-75 range, that would be ideal.

That may seem like pie in the sky, but KSU will have a strong defensive line (Freshman AA, Brandon Harold, NFL prospect, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, Former 4* recruit, Daniel Calvin), an average linebacker corps, and one of the best corners in the conference in Josh Moore. There isn't a lot of depth there, but the front line talent actually has some NFL ability at certain positions. So if KSU can stay healthy, there's a chance that the defense can see some major improvement if told how to, you know, how to play defense.

RMN: One of the main talking points about Snyder's return is that he's coming back to a division that has seen the balance of power shift in his absence, especially on the recruiting trail. Do you think Snyder is equipped to deal with the emergence of Mangino and Pinkel's recruiting in their respective states?

TB: In a word, yes. You guys have an excellent point about the shift in the balance of power, and that definitely affects K-State, but it also overlooks certain other factors. It's true that, back when K-State was very good, KU and Mizzou were not very good. That definitely helped in signing the few top prospects that Kansas and the KC metro area produce every year. However, Nebraska and Colorado were also much, much better then than they are now, so while the balance of power has shifted, the North is clearly not as good overall as it was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I will say that I am much, much more worried about beating out KU for in-state recruits than I am about beating Mizzou for KC-area recruits. In order to be successful, we need to have a chokehold on the propects produced by Kansas high schools and, just as importantly the Kansas junior colleges. Mangino has made significant inroads in those areas, but with Snyder back we're starting to see a reversal of that trend. Already, players like Chris Harper and Broderick Smith (probably) are transferring back to K-State to play for Snyder. We've landed a strong oral commitment from four-star running back DeMarcus Robinson from Wichita. I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice to get some of those players Pinkel is getting from KC, but if we lock down Kansas, both high school and junior college, and pick up some players from Texas and Florida like we have in the past, we can be a successful program. Snyder never made his living on top-20 recruiting classes, he made his living from finding players that fit his system and were willing to work hard.

Panjandrum: I don't necessarily share my colleague's concerns about Mangino's recruiting in Kansas. As it stands now, KSU is actually doing better in Kansas than KU is if you believe Rivals.com. KU isn't really getting serious consideration from the top-line talent in the state (Justin McCay, Blake Bell, DeMarcus Robinson), but KSU has a commitment from Robinson, former 4* athlete, Chris Harper, has chosen to transfer back to KSU, and former 3* wide receiver, Brodrick Smith, transferred back to KSU. Neither of them seriously considered KU.

You can argue that Mangino's improvement in Kansas recruiting has been mostly due to the vacuum that was left when Prince took over, and now that Snyder is back, there is evidence that KSU will probably do better in-state because of the "juice" Snyder commands in this state. Regardless of age, and regardless of record since 2004, you can probably ask high school coaches in the state of Kansas who they would rather send their kids to play for, and I'm pretty sure the number would skew towards Snyder, and it would probably be by a large margin.

If any programs are going to cause problems for K-State in recruiting, it's going to be Mizzou and Oklahoma State. Andy Hill has KC on lockdown, and OSU has always had a presence in Wichita. Both of these cities are going to be major battlegrounds for KSU, and it's essential that if KSU wants to get back to contending for the division, they're going to have to win those battles.

RMN: Outside of Illinois, there probably isn't a program as glad to see Jeremy Maclin go as Kansas State. How do you feel Kansas State matches up with Missouri's 2009 squad?

TB: Much better than in year's past, but that's a statement of the incredibly obvious. Our strengths this season should be in the trenches on both sides, as we have some talented players along the defensive line and a ton of experience along the offensive line. Blaine Gabbert will be a very experienced sophomore by the time he plays K-State in November, but if our defensive line pans out as we hope, we should be able to make things tougher on him. Also, Mizzou's defense wasn't particularly stout last season, and if we see the improvement that we usually see out of Snyder's teams, there's a good chance our offense could be hitting its stride by November.

Panjandrum: Honestly, if you look at certain indicators, KSU matches up well on paper. KSU has a number of returning starters, MU lost a lot. Bill Snyder has never lost to Gary Pinkel. KSU has that game at home...on Senior Day. We have a Coffman and you don't (HA!).

Truthfully, any time that you have a program in transition, you're at a disadvantage. Pinkel has established a solid program and systems that probably function more on replacing parts as opposed to replacing talent. So, given that, I'll give MU the advantage in that game, but I wouldn't be surprised if KSU is much more competitive due to the emotional nature of that game, and given that this is the last 'winnable' game on the schedule, a shot at bowl eligibility may be on the line. All of this could make for a fun game in Manhattan.

RMN: Finish the following statements:

TB:

K-State Will Win If... the team avoids injuries during the season, still has something to play for by November, we see the improvement we are hoping to see during the season, and Missouri is something of a disappointment this season. There are so many factors that go into this matchup it almost makes my head spin. I like the fact that the game is at home, and I like the fact that The Legend has never lost to Gary Pinkel, but neither of those factors is dispositive on who will win. We need a lot of things to go right for us this season to be successful, but I think you can say the same thing about Missouri, too, to some extent.
Missouri Will Win If... Gabbert is the quarterback he's expected to be by November and they find serviceable fill-ins for Maclin and Chase Coffman. It wouldn't hurt to find a little defense somewhere, although that's hardly a strong requirement in the North these days. A lot of fans of all programs are writing off Missouri because they lost so many incredible playmakers last season, but that overlooks just how far ahead of the rest of the North they have been, at least in terms of talent. Bill has thoroughly documented all of that by detailing just how much Mizzou has beat each North opponent by over the last two seasons (the best approximation I can give is that it's eleventy billion to 20). So while they have fallen farther than the other North teams in terms of firepower lost, they also fell from a higher perch. We'll see how that plays out this year.

Panjandrum:

K-State Will Win If... The entire team stays healthy and the front-line starters have grown into the system over the previous ten games. Also, they must take advantage of the Senior Day atmosphere.
Missouri Will Win If... KSU didn't improve considerably over the 2008 season and Gabbert decides to throw the football to guys in purple.

RMN: Give us a non-binding, WAY too early score prediction:

TB: I have to play the odds and pick Mizzou to win at this point, even in Manhattan. I'll channel my inner Lee Corso and say "closer than the experts think," though. Let's say Missouri 31, K-State 24.

Panjandrum: I like TB's Prediction. I may go with 31-28 Missouri because I think it has the potential to be a close, entertaining game. However, this program needs to learn how to win again, and MU is ahead of the curve on that.

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