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Preview Q&A: Kansas State

As we continue to examine the big purple enigma that is Kansas State's 2008 football season, we welcome aboard one of our favorite blog brothers: TB from Bring On The Cats, SB Nation's community for K-State fans. 

1. There are so many unknown quantities on this Kansas State team. What IS known about this team?

TB: Overall, not very much. We have a pretty good idea what Josh Freeman brings to the table based upon last year's stats. What's not known with Freeman is how much improvement we can expect. Will he improve again by leaps and bounds, as he did after his true freshman year? Or will he be stagnant, the good-but-not-great quarterback who helps the offense put up a lot of points but isn't really a difference maker?

Ian Campbell is another known quantity. He moves back to defensive end, from which position he led the Big 12 in sacks in 2006. Maybe he won't go for 11.5 sacks again, but I'd be willing to bet he's among the conference leaders.

While we have other returning players, it's hard to say what we'll get from them. Notables include Deon Murphy (how will he react to being the go-to guy?), Antwon Moore (looked great against Auburn, then got hurt against SJSU and missed the rest of the season), Joshua Moore (all-conference honors at CB his freshmen year, then missed all of last year due to academic issues that were eventually resolved favorably).

2. What was to fault for KSU's game-to-game inconsistency last season? Was it lack of preparation, motivation, execution, etc.?

TB: Really, that's hard to say. Some of the "inconsistency" was due to different circumstances. The team looked great against Colorado at home, then had to go on the road to play Oklahoma State, in a game where they took Okie State to the wire on homecoming night. Even though it was a big win to a loss, that might not necessarily mean the play was inconsistent.

Overall, it's probably partially attributable to all of those factors you mentioned, but one other thing that plagued the team last year was injuries. Antwon Moore looked great at LB against Auburn, then went down for the season with an injury against SJSU. With him (and others, notably Steve Cline, who was also injured) healthy, who knows, things might have turned out differently. When you have backups in there, inconsistent play is part of the deal. They're obviously good enough to make an FBS roster, but don't play consistently well enough to start.

Of course, after the Oklahoma State game, pretty much all was lost. If not for the fact that we played Baylor the next week, the skid may have started then (if you look back at it, we were pretty awful in the first half of that game). At that point the team was beat up and had taken a dagger in Stillwater. The fight was just gone.

More questions after the jump...

3. Give us an update on the evolution of Josh Freeman. With Jordy Nelson gone, is there enough offensive firepower to compete in the explosive Big 12?

TB: Josh Freeman's development at this point is almost wholly dependent on how much help he gets from his offensive line. In 2006, he somehow survived behind a jerry-rigged unit that barely gave him time for a three-step drop. Last year, while the line was more competent, Freeman was still subject to getting hammered on any play, especially after Jordan Bedore went down to injury. This year, we have a lot of experienced linemen back, so the hope is they will provide adequate protection to give Freeman time to look down the field more. The last few years, the line's inability to provide sustained protection limited our ability to throw downfield, not to mention provide a serviceable running game.

Obviously, the other two factors in this evolution are the running game and the wide receivers. At running back, the status of Leon Patton (the only returning player with experience) is still in doubt over some legal issues. That leaves us with a whole bunch of backups, transfers, and a much-hyped freshman (Kwamaine Brown) to fill the void. At wide receiver, it's Deon Murphy and several highly touted junior college transfers. To answer the question, or rather not answer it, whether or not we have the firepower to score enough points in the Big 12 remains unknown.

4. What fell apart on defense in the latter half of last season?

TB: Mostly it was injuries and simple, though scary, lack of effort. After players like Antwon Moore and Steve Cline were injured, we were forced to play inexperienced, less athletic, and smaller players. Beyond that, the thorough inability to stop Oklahoma State in a heartbreaking loss seemed to break the team's spirit. Now, I'm not really sure why all the fire went away, because even after that game, and the win over Baylor, there was still plenty to play for (notably a bowl game). But the fumble on the opening kickoff at Iowa State seemed to bring about a sense of "here we go again" If we weren't dead after the Okie State game, we certainly flatlined in Ames.

5. What constitutes "success" for Kansas State this season? At what point does Ron Prince need to start looking over his shoulder?

TB: Success is a bowl game. Not being bowl eligible, but actually making a bowl game. If the team from the first half of last year shows up and a handful of the junior college guys pan out, I don't think 8-4 is out of the realm of possibility. If not, it's going to be ugly, and 3-9 isn't out of the question.

As for Ron Prince, I'm working on a piece right now that will look at this in great detail (Ed. note: Prince piece published here). To put is simply, it's not a black and white thing. Whether or not Ron Prince is in trouble after this year will be based on a very fact-specific inquiry, not just "oh, he went 4-8 so he's gone."

6. How do you expect K-State to matchup with Mizzou? Finish the following phrases:
-- Mizzou will win if:
-- Kansas State will win if:

TB: We don't match up well with Mizzou at all, unless our defense totally turns the corner from the end of last year. The defense that showed up against Auburn and Texas could potentially slow the Mizzou offense down. Offensively, I think we can score some points, but can we outscore Mizzou? I doubt it.
Mizzou will win if: A three-pronged lightning bolt doesn't strike Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman as they take the field. Really, unless something very strange happens, Mizzou should win this game, because they are simply a better, more-talented (gulp) better-coached team.
Kansas State will win if: A three-pringed lightning bolt does strike Daniel, Maclin and Coffman. In all reality, we probably cannot win this game without a lot of help from Mizzou.

7. Give us an early prediction for Mizzou/Kansas State game, as well as the best- and worst-case scenarios for Kansas State's record this season.

TB: I'm going to be somewhat optimistic and assume that some of our junior college guys will pan out, we'll stay healthy and we'll stay motivated. If that happens, I think the game may at least remain "close." Let's go ahead and say Mizzou 41, K-State 27. That's probably the glass-half-full approach, but given where the teams were five years ago, it shocks me that I'm saying that.

K-State probably has the widest divergence between best-case and worst-case scenarios of any Big 12 team. Best case, we get Leon Patton back or Kwamaine Brown turns into a freshman sensation at running back, Deon Murphy morphs into a smaller version of Jordy Nelson, and Josh Freeman gets good protection from the o-line and becomes the quarterback he thinks he can be. Also, Ian Campbell becomes the Big 12 sackmaster again, Antwon Moore stays healthy, and Joshua Moore picks up where he left off his true freshman season. On top of all that, the team actually plays hard until the final whistle against Iowa State. If that happens: 8-4

Worst-case, Patton remains suspended, Brown is a wide-eyed freshman, Murphy can't shake his case of the dropsies, and Freeman remains merely an above-average Big 12 quarterback. On defense, the team quits after the third game (Louisville) instead of the eighth game (Baylor last year), Campbell can't find his 2006 form, Josh Moore plays like a kid who has been gone for a year, none of the junior college guys provide much help, and injuries hit. If that happens: 3-9