BOULDER CO - NOVEMBER 20: Quarterback Collin Klein #7 of the Kansas State Wildcats rushes with the ball as Josh Hartigan #55 of the Colorado Buffaloes closes in for the tackle at Folsom Field on November 20 2010 in Boulder Colorado. Colorado defeated Kansas State 44-36. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The identity remains for Bill Snyder's post-retirement teams, but can the Wildcats succeed without Daniel Thomas and a significant talent upgrade on defense?
NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.
Last week, we looked at a team (Colorado) that is attempting to rekindle old magic by turning the program over to former players from the regime in charge during the glory days. Today, we take on a team that simply handed the reins to the old regime.
When Bill Snyder retired the first time around, recruiting was trailing off a bit, and the results were beginning to follow the same trajectory. After KSU's thrilling 2003 Big 12 title -- an unexpected title given that it came with a team that was not one of Snyder's two or three best -- the Wildcats fell to 4-7 in 2004 and 5-6 in 2005. Too many good assistants had gotten promotions elsewhere (I mean, have you seen his coaching tree?), and too many recruits had begun to leak to Kansas and, primarily, Missouri. The timing was right for him to step down and be celebrated.
(Here's where I go out of my way not to acknowledge anything that happened regarding the hiring and firing of Snyder's successor. I won't even mention his name. We'll just skip to the part where Snyder came back. You're welcome, K-State fans.)
So anyway, the KSU program was in enough disarray following the dismissal of Snyder's nameless replacement that the best plan of action was apparently to bring Snyder back aboard for a few seasons. Two years later, how is it going? Not bad. Not great, but not bad. The Wildcats have gone 13-12, Snyder has resumed his JUCOs and transfers ways, and in 2010, they went to just their second bowl since their 2003 title run. The program's ceiling likely isn't what it was in the late-1990s, but it is higher than it was a couple of years ago. So that's something.
2010 Schedule & Results*
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk**: 52
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|4-Sep||UCLA||31-22||W||22.5 - 23.7||L|
||48-24||W||35.2 - 35.1||W|
|18-Sep||vs Iowa State||27-20||W||33.5 - 27.9||W|
|25-Sep||Central Florida||17-13||W||28.4 - 16.6||W|
|7-Oct||Nebraska||13-48||L||24.2 - 42.3||L|
|15-Oct||at Kansas||59-7||W||47.7 - 27.9||W|
|23-Oct||at Baylor||42-47||L||30.6 - 35.0||L|
|30-Oct||Oklahoma State||14-24||L||16.9 - 21.3||L|
|6-Nov||Texas||39-14||W||39.2 - 23.9||W|
|13-Nov||at Missouri||28-38||L||34.2 - 33.3||W|
|20-Nov||at Colorado||36-44||L||27.8 - 38.9||L|
|27-Nov||at North Texas||49-41||W||31.0 - 39.0||L|
|30-Dec||vs Syracuse||34-36||L||46.3 - 39.9||W|
|Points Per Game||33.6||22||29.1||77|
|Adj. Points Per Game||32.1||29||31.2||95|
In 2010, Kansas State was a 7-6 team that played ... like a 7-6 team. Aside from a nationally-televised egg-laying against Nebraska and a slight late-season fade, the Wildcats were consistently hovering around the average to above-average mark. They did, however, pull off something rather rare -- after they got smoked by Nebraska by 35 points, they headed to Lawrence and throttled Kansas by an even worse margin, 52 points. Eighty-seven point swings in eight days are rare, but then, everything Snyder has accomplished in Manhattan has been rather rare.
|RUSHING||33||63||18||Adj. Line Yards:|
|Standard Downs||27||47||16||Adj. Sack Rate:|
|Q1 Rk||46||1st Down Rk||38|
|Q2 Rk||59||2nd Down Rk||34|
|Q3 Rk||29||3rd Down Rk||32|
The formations have changed here and there, and lord knows the quarterbacks changed about 416 times last year, but the personality of the Bill Snyder Offense™ remains just about what it has always been. A heavy dose of fullbacks, options, and runs, runs, runs, on standard downs, mixed with quite a bit of downfield, intermediate passing on the rare aerial attempts. Though the personnel changes somewhat significantly in 2011, don't expect much variation from this identity.
Daniel Thomas (1,585 yards, 5.3 per carry, +19.5 Adj. POE, 19 TD) was the heart and soul of the KSU offense in 2010, but he had help. KSU was at its best when quarterback Carson Coffman was also finding receivers like Aubrey Quarles downfield as well. All three of those players -- plus backup running back and stud kick returner William Powell, possession receiver Adrian Hilburn, and three starting offensive linemen -- are gone.
Into the void steps a player who was at one point the No. 1 recruit in the country. Five-star running back, and Wichita product, Bryce Brown is eligible to play in a purple jersey this season after his well-publicized transfer from Tennessee. Brown rushed for 460 yards (4.7 per carry, -3.1 Adj. POE) and three touchdowns for the Vols in 2009, showing decent potential but little of the elite burst one expects from such a blue chipper.
At 6'0, 220 pounds, Brown can do a reasonable Daniel Thomas impression and creates a powerful 1-2 combination with QB-turned-TE-turned-QB Collin Klein. Klein showed some potential magic running the option in 2010 (he is agile for his size and usually makes the right run-or-pitch decision), but the staff clearly did not trust him to throw the ball. He passed just four times in a win over Texas, and the next week against Missouri, Snyder and his co-coordinators brought Coffman in anytime they needed to pass. For the season, he attempted 76 rushes to 18 passes. Obviously, Klein's arm was a focus this spring, and the results were encouraging, especially in the Purple & White game. (Of course, Coffman threw for about 26 touchdowns in last year's spring game, so we won't overreact to Klein's 25-for-37, 358-yard line.)
- Longtime target Quarles is gone, but there is potential in the receiving corps. Minnesota transfer Brodrick Smith looked like an interesting big-play threat last year (191 yards, 13.6 per catch, 47% catch, 3 TD) until he was lost for the season five games in, while Oregon transfer Chris Harper (330 yards, 13.2 per catch, 65% catch, 4 TD) and Tramaine Thompson (258 yards, 13.6 per catch, 73% catch in seven games) seemed to do well in straddling the line between big plays and solid completion percentage. We'll see who Klein leans on when he needs a completion.
- Big Daniel Thomas was good at falling forward and making the most of what he had, yet KSU's line still only ranked 62nd in Adj. Line Yards; they will need to do their runners a few more favors in 2011, which is a lot to ask with only two starters (Clyde Aufner and Manase Foketi) returning.
|RUSHING||84||69||93||Adj. Line Yards:|
|Standard Downs||59||47||69||Adj. Sack Rate:|
|Q1 Rk||74||1st Down Rk||54|
|Q2 Rk||84||2nd Down Rk||116|
|Q3 Rk||115||3rd Down Rk||109|
As much as Bill Snyder's old teams were known for their punishing ground game, they were known as much for devastating defenses and killer linebackers. The magic has not returned since Snyder took back his old office. Kansas State was semi-efficient on standard downs last year, and they were able to force some turnovers, but they had the nation's worst passing downs defense. The nation's worst! Nothing is more demoralizing for an opponent than when KSU grinds out a long drive on the ground then immediately forces a three-and-out. This was not a problem in 2010. To put it kindly, K-State fans are not high on defensive coordinator Chris Cosh at the moment, but passing downs rankings this bad hint at talent as much as coaching.
At first blush, things aren't too encouraging for 2011 either. Three of four defensive ends are gone from a defense that did not generate much of a pass rush, and both starting cornerbacks -- Stephen Harrison and Terrance Sweeney, who combined for 74.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL/sacks, 4 INTs and 21 PBU -- have departed as well. It's hard to mourn losses too much when clearly these players didn't make a significant difference in KSU's overall level of defensive play, but they were still among the better players KSU had.
If there's hope for KSU's D in 2011, it comes in the form of yet another transfer named Brown. Arthur Brown, Bryce's older brother and, himself, a former five-star recruit, is also eligible this fall; he looked excellent this spring. We should be wary when it comes to over-hyping players who have yet to produce, and the 13.5 total tackles (0.5 TFL/sacks) Brown racked up in two seasons at Miami are far from inspiring, but you lap up the hope wherever you can find it.
- Big plays were an issue on the ground and through the air, but KSU's efficiency against the run could improve in 2011. Never mind Brown -- tackles Raphael Guidry and Ray Kibble (combined TFL/sacks: 7.0) return, as do linebackers like Alex Hrebec (55.5 tackles) and Tre Walker (37.5 tackles). The personnel KSU must replace could significantly affect the pass defense, but the run D is in decent hands.
- David Garrett moves to cornerback for KSU this season; we'll see if he does as well in this role as he did from the safety role in which he racked up an incredible 15.0 TFL/sacks, 80.0 tackles, and nine PBU. He was easily KSU's most statistically impressive player, and it makes sense to place him in the biggest area of need. Safeties Tysyn Hartman (70.0 tackles, 2 INT) and Ty Zimmerman (57.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 2 FR as a true freshman) should make for a solid pair in his absence. Of course, these players' solid stat line still did not prevent epic passing downs breakdowns last year, so we'll see.
Kansas State's 2010 Season Set to Music
Nine of KSU's 13 games in 2010 were played decided by ten points or less. Like Kansas' "Magnum Opus," the season was fraught with tension, drama, frustration and drastically varying degrees of quality.
Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit
Summary and Projection Factors
Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.
|Four-Year F/+ Rk||73|
|Five-Year Recruiting Rk||57|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin****||+4 / +3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (5, 6)|
Honestly, it's hard to know what to make of this team. A high-quality running back is replaced by a more highly-touted, less-accomplished back of similar stature. An athletic receiving corps with higher potential than in recent years will be taking passes from a quarterback who was completely untrustworthy last year. Passing downs defense that was poor last year might get worse (okay, that's really not possible), and standard downs defense that was solid might get better. Your guess is as good as mine.
As with a lot of teams we have been previewing lately, a fast start will be key. K-State only leaves the state once before mid-October, hosting Eastern Kentucky and Kent State in gimme non-conference games, playing at Miami, then hosting Baylor (to whom they lost, 47-42, last year) and Missouri (to whom they have lost five in a row) to start Big 12 play. Anything between a 4-1 and 2-3 start is possible, and it is hard to figure out what is more likely given the newcomers (especially those named Brown) upon whom the Wildcats will be counting. Initial projections have K-State hovering around the .500 mark for basically the seventh consecutive season. One wonders if Snyder has another run in him at some point; with underclassmen at several key positions, KSU fans can look to the 2012-13 window for said run, if it exists.
* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.
** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.
*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.
**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.
*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.