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As we round the home stretch with opponent previews, it's time to look west to Manhattan, where Bill Snyder looks to deliver Miracle #2 to central Kansas.
Bill Snyder has an interesting job ahead of him for 2009 and beyond. He enters a Big 12 North that is either much more balanced than it was 10 or 20 years ago (before it was the Big 12 North), or with a different balance of power, depending on how you view the long-term prospects of both Missouri and Kansas. When he brought Kansas State up from the ashes 20 years ago, Kansas and Missouri were basically defunct programs. Now that they're both on much less shaky footing two decades later, can Snyder deliver the talent necessary to get back atop the division? Is it possible for all three programs to coexist at a reasonably high level?
Even though Gary Pinkel never actually beat Bill Snyder on the field, it's been my theory for a while that Pinkel still played a major role in driving Snyder toward retirement through recruiting, particularly in the Kansas City area (thank you, Andy Hill). Missouri signed Chase Coffman and James Stigall in 2005, and Tony Temple, Chase Patton, and Jerrill Humphrey in 2004--three of these five players could have made a pretty significant impact in keeping the Wildcat program afloat in Snyder's last year or two, and while he would have stood a good chance at landing all of these guys in the mid- to late-1990s, they were signing with Missouri in the 2000s. And that's to say nothing of Kerry Meier (whose brother went to KSU), who signed with KU and could have helped as well.
Anyway, with a few years off to hop on the rejuvenation machine, Snyder faces a pretty tough task, particularly in 2009, where a mediocre-but-upperclass roster awaits his magic touch.
Record: 5-7 (2-6 in the Big 12)
S&P+: 192.3 (79th in the country, 9th in the Big 12)
Scoring Margin: 419-430 (-11)
Conference Scoring Margin: 231-339 (-108)
Wins (S&P+ Ranking in parentheses): #85 UL-Lafayette, #98 Texas A&M, #104 Iowa State, #117 North Texas, 1-AA Montana State
Losses: #3 Oklahoma, #10 Missouri, #15 Texas Tech, #20 Kansas, #21 Nebraska, #65 Louisville, #82 Colorado
So...0-7 versus the Top 84 teams, 5-0 versus #85 and beyond. Overall ranking of #79. God bless the S&P+ rankings...they make things so clean and pretty sometimes.
Despite the fact that they came within one point of bowl eligibility (they lost to CU, 14-13), this really was a pretty dreadful K-State team. Their five non-Colorado conference losses were by 30 points (Texas Tech), 23 (Oklahoma), 31 (Kansas), 17 (Missouri...who led by 31 before Brandon Banks went off against Mizzou's scrubs...damn Ron Prince), and 28 (Nebraska). A once-proud program was left to feast on a relatively easy schedule to rack up five wins, but the overall talent level of this team simply wasn't very high. Ron Prince rode into Manhattan with the reputation of a master recruiter, but combined with Snyder's last couple of rather unimpressive recruiting classes, there just was not much to be excited about. The only truly fast guys (Banks and, to a lesser extent, Deon Murphy) weighed about as much as Miley Cyrus, their big guys weren't very good, and...well, their defense was pretty god-awful*. Snyder should pretty quickly be able to improve the latter of those three issues, but the other issues might take a while, especially since Murphy's no longer with the team, and they still don't appear to have a running back worth a damn.
* There was also the issue of Josh Freeman not being developed even 1% beyond the QB he was when he came to school in 2006--any improvement he made was from experience, not coaching...I mean, did they really not have anybody to help him with his footwork? It was atrocious! But I don't want to turn this preview into a big anti-Prince screed, so I left this as an asterisked issue.
Head Coach: Bill Snyder
Record at K-State: 136-68-1 in 17 years (135-58-1 after the first year)
With as many great Snyder pieces as have come out this summer, I won't go into a lot of detail here. Snyder pulled off one of the bigger miracles college football has ever seen, dragging a program that had experienced four winning seasons in 50 years (none better than 6-5 since 1954) to nine wins or better in 10 of 11 years (11 wins or better in six of seven), to a Big 12 title in 2003, and to within a Sirr Parker of a national title game appearance in 1998. He produced a ridiculous amount of great assistant coaches, including (in alphabetical order) Phil Bennett, Bret Bielema, Dana Dimel, Jim Leavitt, Mark Mangino, Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, and Brent Venables. There is no telling how much talent resides on his current staff--we'll know the answer soon enough--but his 17 years in Manhattan were unbelievably successful. You can't even call it a resurrection, because that suggests previous life. He built something out of nothing, and now he's coming back to do it again. I'm not particularly optimistic that he can succeed, at least not to previous levels, but there's no question in my mind that he can at least produce a winning program again, and after the Dark Years of Ron Prince, that's an improvement.
Alright, to the numbers!
S&P+: 98.0 (#70)
Standard Downs S&P+: 96.6 (#78)
Redzone S&P+: 97.3 (#73)
Q1 S&P+: 106.6 (#54)
1st Down S&P+: 95.9 (#80)
Rushing S&P+: 94.2 (#86)
Standard Downs: 90.4 (#94)
Redzone: 96.5 (#85)
Line Yards+: 100.6 (#62)
Passing S&P+: 101.5 (#58)
Standard Downs: 104.7 (#48)
Redzone: 99.1 (#65)
Sack Rate+: 186.0 (#7)
The K-State rushing and passing games were almost complete opposites in 2008. The Wildcats were reasonably efficient (at least average) running the ball but had no explosiveness whatsoever. Meanwhile, the passing game was relatively explosive (39th in the country in PPP+) but inefficient and inconsistent. KSU wasn't good enough at any one thing to carry them through dicey games and really only played in 2-3 close games all year. Either they were more talented than their opponents (North Texas, Montana State, Iowa State, etc.), or they were overwhelmed by more athletic, more disciplined teams. You could honestly say the same thing about Missouri's 1999-2001 teams.
- I wish I had a decade's worth of play-by-play data. I'd love to see if there were any other first-round quarterbacks who led offenses that ranked 95th or worse in most Passing Downs categories. You look at the top of the Passing Downs Passing S&P+ rankings, and you see most of the top QBs in college football--Mark Sanchez (1st), Daryl Clark (2nd), Colt McCoy (3rd), Sam Bradford (4th), Matthew Stafford (5th), Tim Tebow (6th), Jevan Snead (7th), Max Hall (10th), Zac Robinson (11th), Chase Daniel (12th). Josh Freeman's offense ranked between those of Idaho and Kent State. Not the most sparkling of company.
- Interesting split--the K-State O-line was 62nd in run blocking and 7th in pass blocking. You figure Freeman does get some credit for his elusiveness and ability to take a hit and still get a throw off. Both of those things would help sack numbers. But still, that's a pretty big difference.
- The K-State offense was mediocre in the first quarter, bad in the second, and pretty damn awful in the third and fourth. And they were one of the worst offenses in the country on second downs.
2008 Unit Ranking: #65 in the nation (#10 in the Big 12)
But that's enough about Josh Freeman. It's time to talk about...well, whoever's going to be K-State's quarterback in 2009. The candidates are plentiful. You've got a South Florida transfer in Grant Gregory, who has spent his entire South Florida career backing up Matt "Homeless Man's Brett Favre" Grothe. He's completed 27 of 50 passes in his career, mostly in scrub time, for 384 yards, 3 TDs and 3 sacks. You've also got Junior college transfer Daniel Thomas and a pair of big, 3-star youngsters in Joseph Kassanavoid, pride of Lawson, MO, and Collin Klein of Loveland, CO, who came across as decent running weapon in the spring game.
But the most likely candidate, it seems, is Carson Coffman, middle brother of the Coffman clan. After looking pretty iffy in scrub time against North Texas, he was downright decent in, well, scrub time, in conference play. Against the backups of Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, Coffman completed 13 of 17 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. You really can't get a good read for how those numbers translate to success, but he has racked up a bit of experience in the past two seasons, and, well, he's a Coffman. He's got to be pretty decent, right? Who knows what Coffman's ceiling is (or the ceiling of any of these guys, for that matter)? What's certain is that the winner of the QB battle will be taking the reins of a pretty different offense than what they were recruited to K-State to run.
2008 Unit Ranking: #119 in the nation (#12 in the Big 12)
Keithen Valentine made news last year by coming out of nowhere to win the starting running back job at the beginning of the 2008 season. He didn't keep it very long--he rushed for a combined 118 yards in 31 carries against less-than-stalwart North Texas, Montana State and Louisville defenses--before he gave way to others. First, it was Lamark Brown, putting up an impressive 137 yards in 29 carries in a tight win over UL-Lafayette...and then managing just 287 yards in 88 carries (3.3 per carry) the rest of the way. Then something called a Logan Dold took over, carrying 21 times for 115 yards in a win over Texas A&M...and following that with 131 yards in 42 carries (3.1 per carry) the rest of the wa. Apparently Ron Prince would have found more success in the running game if just started a different guy each game, no matter the quality.
When describing the quality of the 2008 K-State RB corps, I have two items that tell the story: 1) as you see above, K-State had the 119th-ranked FBS RB corps. Yes, that's out of 120 teams. Only Washington's was worst. 2) The two guys who split the most carries for the Wildcats in 2008--Brown and Dold--are playing different positions in 2009 (Brown a WR, Dold a DB). What's left is Valentine and...well, a couple of other guys. You can't really gauge spring game stats for much, but here is a countdown of the number of rushes different players saw:
- Valentine: 20 carries
- Jarell Childs: 12
- Frank Delarue: 7
- Dee Bell: 4
Maybe that means something, maybe it doesn't, but if I had to guess, that's roughly the split you'll see during the season...at least at the start. And again...Valentine was unimpressive enough last year that he lost his starting job to two guys who weren't good enough to stay at running back. Something tells me Bill Snyder can't hit the recruiting trail hard enough--he's already locked down a commit from 4-star Wichita Northwest RB DeMarcus Robinson (who had an offer from Mizzou, for what it's worth). Unfortunately, Robinson's still going to be at Northwest this fall. Somebody's got to run the ball for K-State in 2009, but I'm not sure anybody's going to run it particularly well.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
2008 Unit Ranking: #48 in the nation (#9 in the Big 12)
Projected WR Depth Chart
Brandon Banks (5'7, 150, Sr.)
Aubrey Quarles (5'11, 195, Sr.)
Lamark Brown (6'3, 225, Jr.)
Attrail Snipes (6'1, 180, Sr.)
Adrian Hilburn (6'1, 195, Jr.)
Matt Wykes (6'2, 209, Sr.)
Brice VIgnery (6'1, 204, Sr.)
Chase Mejia (5'10, 170, Jr.)
Russell Simons (6'1, 206, So.)
So it's safe to say that Brandon Banks produced more per pound than just about everybody else in the country. Generously listed at 150 pounds (ESPN has him at 142), Banks was huge (so to speak) in non-conference play, with 22 catches for 463 yards and six touchdowns. He had his moments in conference play (77-yard touchdown against OU, five catches for 95 yards against Colorado, seven for 116 against Iowa State, complete torching of Mizzou's backups...screwyouronprince), though he was less consistent (which makes sense considering most corner's covering him had 50 pounds on him); regardless, he still ended up with an impressive 67 catches for 1,049 yards. Nothing could help him more in 2009 than a couple of other decent targets, including at least one big, possession-style receiver. Bill Snyder's probably hoping that Aubrey Quarles (34 catches, 407 yards) and converted RB LaMark Brown fit the bill. Brown is certainly a big guy and a decent athlete, and though he didn't really work out at RB, he might (might) have a shot to be a decent WR.
As a whole, this unit is low on proven quantities and low on years of eligibility. As you'll see, this is a recurring trend on this roster, thanks at least in part to Ron Prince signing something like 19 JUCOs in his final recruiting class. This is either a good or bad thing for Bill Snyder, depending on how you look at it--Snyder will get a chance to pretty quickly insert his own recruited players into the mix, but he'll also be looking at a youth movement in year #2 or #3, which isn't a favorable situation considering Old Man Snyder is...well, old, and probably isn't going to stay on the job for ten years. His time is relatively finite, and he's not going to have an experienced team of his recruits until about year #4 or #5.
2008 Unit Ranking: #13 in the nation (#4 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
T Nick Stringer (6'6, 271, Sr.)
G Brock Unruh (6'6, 288, Sr.)
T Clyde Aufner (6'7, 288, So.)
G Colten Freeze (6'5, 287, So.)
C Zach Kendall (6'3, 287, Jr.)
G Eric Benoit (6'4, 286, Sr.)
T Trevor Viers (6'5, 284, Jr.)
G Kenneth Mayfield (6'4, 311, Jr.)
C Wade Weibert (6'4, 287, Jr.)
T Kaleb Drinkgern (6'7, 270, So.)
G Aaron Jackson (6'2, 310, RSFr.)
By far the highest-rated unit on K-State's offense, the offensive line carved out a Top 15 finish thanks to their outstanding sack rate. Guess we'll find out how much of that was due to Josh Freeman's elusiveness and sack avoidance skills, huh? If there is a decent line in this mix, it gives Snyder something to work with--Nick Stringer could be very good at one tackle position,
and even though I could have sworn I read something about Brock Unruh being lost for the season, I can't find any such article now, so apparently I made it up though losing Brock Unruh for the year will hurt. Those two Stringer will combine with a young but relatively talented supporting cast, and if Clyde Aufner and Colten Freeze can continue to thrive after serving as part-time freshman starters, then this becomes a downright good line. Lord knows it needs to be good, what with an inexperienced QB (whoever wins the job) and little discernible talent in the backfield.
Best-case scenario: the line congeals well, Carson Coffman (or whoever) looks confident, experienced and poised in the pocket, a solid receiver emerges alongside Brandon Banks. All of this opens up lanes for the running game. K-State is able to move the ball reasonably effectively, enough that a suddenly well-coached defense is able to look at least a smidge like the KSU defenses of old, and K-State wins a bunch of 24-20 type of games.
Worst-case scenario: the new QB stinks, the RBs are terrible, Banks is too little to get open consistently (and his supporting cast stinks), and a line whose stats were propped up by Josh Freeman's size and escapability isn't good enough to make anybody look better. K-State's offense is worse than Iowa State's and Colorado's, and the defense is still a year or two away from competence.
I apparently hold Bill Snyder high enough in regard that I continuously look for evidence that this team can be good. It's certainly possible that good coaching can produce at least a competent running game, and that Coffman-to-Banks becomes a big-time combination, but the odds aren't superb on that one. Chances are, K-State struggles a bit in Snyder's first year. There just isn't enough skill position talent to get things done in the Big 12.