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If Bill Snyder has one more big year left at Kansas State, it probably won't be 2015

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Snyder takes top-60 classes and turns out top-30 results at Kansas State, but a massive identity change on offense could make a Top-25 or -30 ranking the Wildcats' ceiling in 2015.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Wizards and mortality

Bill Snyder is not going to coach forever.

Granted, if someone were to figure how to indeed lead a program until the end of time, it would be Snyder, the wizard who created a winner at the country's toughest power-conference job in the 1980s, then resurrected it when it fell apart again without him. He pretty clearly has good command of the dark arts, so he might be able to whip together some sort of immortality spell as well.

Snyder's second tenure at KSU has been remarkable for different reasons than the first. The first time around, Snyder crafted a killing machine. In years 5-8 (1993-96), KSU went 37-10-1 and finished ranked in the AP Poll four times. If he had retired then and there, he would have been regarded as a legend considering the state of the KSU program when he got there -- three wins in four years, three winning seasons in 50 years, one bowl in program history, etc. But he kept going. In years 9-15 (1997-2003), KSU won 11 games six times, finished in the top 10 five times, and won the school's first Big 12 title.

The second time around, Snyder hasn't quite reached the same level of absurd quality, but KSU is still winning. The Wildcats went 13-12 in his first two years back, but went 21-5 in 2011-12 and claimed another conference title, then went 17-9 in 2013-14. Despite barely outrecruiting Kansas from a rankings perspective, KSU has ranked in the F/+ top 30 for four straight years and was fifth in 2012.

Still, mortality hovers. We look for signs that the end of the road is coming. Every loss brings about a fresh wave of "This might be about it" rumbling, every change is viewed as a tea leaf to read. It is on one hand frustrating -- when you focus so much on what might be about to happen, you stop paying attention to what actually is -- and on the other, completely understandable. We know he's 75, we saw what happened the last time he left, and we wonder.

Here's one for the tea leaves department: From 1999-2005, junior college transfers made up about 35 percent of KSU's signees. On three occasions (2001-03), the percentage went over 40 percent. Meanwhile, upon his return, he picked up where he left off: between 2010-14, JUCOs made up 37 percent of his signees and went over 40 percent in 2010 and 2014. But in Snyder's 2015 class, there were only two JUCOs, 10 percent of the class. Of his five current commits for 2016, all five are high schoolers.

This would have been a pretty good year to load up on transfers. While Kansas State's offensive line and secondary are loaded with seniors, the rest of the two-deep really isn't, and KSU faces a complete sea change when it comes to offensive identity. With quarterback Jake Waters, receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, and a rather mediocre run game, KSU threw constantly last year -- 3 percent more than the national average on standard downs and 11 percent more on passing downs. The Michael Bishop/Collin Klein, run-and-play-action days were never further in the rearview. And without this trio, the identity is facing major change. Plus, two-thirds of the defensive front six is getting replaced as well. Now would have been a pretty good time for a boost of JUCO experience. Instead, it was Snyder's least JUCO-heavy class in two decades.

Is this a sign of a long game, an attempt by Bill Snyder to leave his successor a heavier, deeper base of five-year talent? Is it a total coincidence? (The latter theory is supplemented by the fact that his 2014 class was nearly 50 percent JUCOs, and he just landed two late commitments from 2015 JUCO guys). Again, it's easy to note every behavior change and assign significance to it.

Regardless, 2015 probably isn't going to be Snyder's best season in Manhattan. The Wildcats should be competent on both sides of the ball, and the pass defense should be quite a bit more efficient than it was last year. A top-40 performance is pretty likely, but KSU probably won't be good enough to take advantage of odd-year schedule that brings TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor to town. Like Oklahoma State, KSU could play a role in the Big 12 title by beating one of these teams, but unlike OSU, the Wildcats probably don't have quite enough pieces to make a run themselves.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 26
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Stephen F. Austin N/A 55-16 W 76% 16.8 100%
6-Sep at Iowa State 92 32-28 W 55% 3.1 86%
18-Sep Auburn 7 14-20 L 59% 5.3 37%
27-Sep UTEP 90 58-28 W 98% 47.7 100%
4-Oct Texas Tech 82 45-13 W 87% 26.6 99%
18-Oct at Oklahoma 19 31-30 W 50% -0.1 17%
25-Oct Texas 53 23-0 W 92% 32.8 99%
1-Nov Oklahoma State 75 48-14 W 93% 35.2 100%
8-Nov at TCU 6 20-41 L 45% -2.9 2%
20-Nov at West Virginia 40 26-20 W 73% 14.3 81%
29-Nov Kansas 99 51-13 W 95% 37.9 100%
6-Dec at Baylor 10 27-38 L 53% 1.7 9%
2-Jan vs. UCLA 12 35-40 L 22% -18.0 2%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 36.8 22 24.9 44
Points Per Game 35.8 25 23.2 28

2. As long as the opponent wasn't athletically superior ...

A lot was made of Kansas State's walk-on program over the last couple of years. Last year, in fact, walk-ons made up about one-third of KSU's two-deep. That the Wildcats were able to win nine games and finish 26th in F/+ with such roster makeup was certainly impressive. But if you watched them play against really good teams, you could make the case that this makeup also held the Wildcats back. They were overmatched against Auburn's defensive front. They allowed at least 6.7 yards per play against TCU, Oklahoma, UCLA and Baylor.

If you didn't have an obvious athletic advantage over KSU, you were toast. The Wildcats would take you down. But if you did ...

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 20): 46% (~top 70 | record: 1-4)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 20): 84% (~top 20 | record: 8-0)

In 2015, walk-ons will play major roles on the offensive line and in the defensive front six. If Joe Hubener ends up winning the job, the Wildcats will be starting a former walk-on at quarterback as well. And hell, there's an outside chance that redshirt freshman walk-on Justin Silmon might win the starting running back job.

This will make for a great story. And to be sure, there are worse things in the world than having a high floor. But this might play a role in tamping down KSU's ceiling as well.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 62 IsoPPP+ 111.6 43
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.6% 24 Succ. Rt. + 118.3 18
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.1 12 Def. FP+ 103.0 33
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 32 Redzone S&P+ 120.0 16
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.7 ACTUAL 13 -2.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 50 33 18 43
RUSHING 104 47 31 65
PASSING 17 26 12 39
Standard Downs 32 20 50
Passing Downs 28 27 28
Q1 Rk 19 1st Down Rk 24
Q2 Rk 43 2nd Down Rk 38
Q3 Rk 34 3rd Down Rk 27
Q4 Rk 9

3. What now?

By now, we have countless examples of Bill Snyder's wizardry. To me, one of the most fascinating examples, however, has nothing to do with wins and losses. Snyder and his offensive co-coordinators, Dana Dimel and Del Miller, have managed to utilize a fullback and create a spread offense at the same time.

For the second straight year, no one in college football created more solo tackles with their offense than Kansas State. The goal of most college football offenses is to get the ball into your playmakers' hands with one-on-one, runner-vs.-tackler opportunities, and KSU has figured out ways to do it incredibly well, whether or not they are regarded as a true "spread" offense or not.

At this point, we can assume that KSU will figure out ways to create opportunities for its playmakers. Great. Now ... who are the playmakers? Tyler Lockett is gone. Curry Sexton, 2014's breakout performer (and a wonderful No. 2 for Lockett) is gone. DeMarcus Robinson, the only KSU running back with any semblance of potential explosiveness, is gone.

From an efficiency standpoint, KSU could be fine. Starting running back Charles Jones did gain 5 yards on nearly 40 percent of his carries last year (an average that is neither great nor terrible), and if Joe Hubener wins the QB job, his efficient running could be an asset in the same way that former star QB Collin Klein's was. Senior receivers Kody Cook and Kyle Klein are sturdy, solid targets, and junior fullback Glenn Gronkowski could see more use. But any explosiveness might have to come from newcomers.

Even with Lockett and Sexton, KSU's 2014 offense was based on efficiency. Most Wildcats offenses are. But big plays mask weaknesses, and Lockett's explosiveness was key in tight wins over Iowa State (six catches, 136 yards), Oklahoma (six for 86) and West Virginia (10 for 196 yards). And when he struggled and suffered some drops against Auburn, KSU didn't have enough weapons to overcome it.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jake Waters
262 397 3501 22 7 66.0% 30 7.0% 7.8
Joe Hubener 6'5, 211 Jr. NR NR 9 17 235 1 1 52.9% 0 0.0% 13.8
Jesse Ertz 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8337
Jonathan Banks 6'3, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) NR
Alex Delton 6'0, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609

4. Got a quarterback?

It's hard to do more in 17 passes and 27 rushes than what Joe Hubener did last year in cleanup time. In fact, his stat line was almost Michael Bishop-esque: efficient running, inefficient but explosive passing. But he didn't log any time in games that weren't decided by at least 21 points, so it's obviously hard to read much from it. And given the opportunity to win the starting quarterback job outright this spring, he dropped the ball, so to speak. The job is still up for grabs.

It appeared that KSU would head into fall camp with Hubener, sophomore Jesse Ertz and incoming freshman Alex Delton battling it out, all with a decent chance of ending up as starter. But that got blurry when Jonathan Banks, a four-star JUCO quarterback per Rivals, committed in May. Banks completed 60 percent of his passes at 14.2 yards per completion and rushed for 700 yards for Contra Costa College last fall.

If neither Hubener, Ertz, nor Delton can seize the top spot because of their arms, Banks' legs could give him an edge. With Banks and a suddenly sizable stable of running backs, the Wildcats could lean heavily on efficiency and ball control and take a few deep shots to one of their bigger targets. If the defense is up to snuff, that might be enough to win another eight or nine games. But the QB will still be new, the running backs are still unproven, and the line is confusing at best and mediocre at worst. It's hard to feel overtly confident about that "if."

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Charles Jones RB 5'10, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 133 540 13 4.1 3.1 38.3% 1 1
Jake Waters QB
124 658 9 5.3 5.3 44.4% 7 2
DeMarcus Robinson RB
113 437 5 3.9 5.0 31.0% 0 0
Joe Hubener QB 6'5, 211 Jr. NR NR 27 142 3 5.3 2.5 51.9% 0 0
Jarvis Leverett Jr. RB 5'11, 211 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8431 20 67 0 3.4 1.4 35.0% 0 0
Jesse Ertz QB 6'3, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8337 7 46 0 6.6 6.0 42.9% 0 0
Glenn Gronkowski FB 6'3, 234 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 4 6 0 1.5 2.1 25.0% 0 0
Dalvin Warmack RB 5'8, 187 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8606
Winston Dimel FB 6'1, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8050
Justin Silmon RB 5'10, 191 RSFr. NR NR
Alex Barnes RB 6'1, 226 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8298
Kalin Heath RB 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8507
Denzel Goolsby RB 6'0, 191 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8269
Tyler Burns RB 5'11, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8199

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tyler Lockett WR
149 106 1515 71.1% 37.4% 59.1% 10.2 257 10.2 249.3
Curry Sexton WR
106 79 1059 74.5% 26.6% 53.8% 10.0 129 9.9 174.2
Deante Burton WR 6'2, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8041 41 17 171 41.5% 10.3% 58.5% 4.2 -56 4.2 28.1
Kody Cook WR 6'1, 200 Sr. NR NR 30 20 251 66.7% 7.5% 53.3% 8.4 11 8.3 41.3
Zach Trujillo TE
23 19 389 82.6% 5.8% 69.6% 16.9 169 16.0 64.0
DeMarcus Robinson RB
11 9 76 81.8% 2.8% 27.3% 6.9 -28 6.4 12.5
Charles Jones RB 5'10, 206 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 11 8 75 72.7% 2.8% 54.5% 6.8 -20 6.6 12.3
Glenn Gronkowski FB 6'3, 234 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 9 5 99 55.6% 2.3% 88.9% 11.0 37 8.2 16.3
Judah Jones WR
8 4 51 50.0% 2.0% 50.0% 6.4 0 7.0 8.4
Steven West WR 6'1, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8111 4 1 15 25.0% 1.0% 25.0% 3.8 -1 2.1 2.5
Andre Davis WR 6'0, 203 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8217 4 2 14 50.0% 1.0% 75.0% 3.5 -11 3.8 2.3
Kyle Klein WR 6'4, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8104
Cody Small TE 6'5, 241 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8289
Dayton Valentine TE 6'4, 262 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600
Dominique Heath WR 5'9, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7983
Isaiah Zuber WR 6'1, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407









Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 85.9 2.5 3.09 38.9% 63.2% 22.0% 75.5 6.1% 8.8%
Rank 113 113 86 71 99 104 114 91 84
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
B.J. Finney C 51 2014 1st All-Big 12
Cody Whitehair LT 6'4, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8231 38 2014 2nd All-Big 12
Boston Stiverson LG 6'4, 316 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8039 18
Matt Kleinsorge RT 6'5, 310 Sr. NR NR 13
Luke Hayes RG 6'6, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8609 12
Drew Liddle RG
1
Aaron Bennett RT 6'7, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 0
Reed Bergstrom RG 6'2, 305 Sr. NR NR 0
A.J. Allen OL 6'6, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8372 0
Terrale Johnson OL 6'1, 303 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 0
Will Ash LG 6'3, 325 Jr. NR NR 0
Ajahne Brager LT 6'3, 303 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8212 0
Reid Najvar C 6'4, 290 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8032 0
Dalton Risner C 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681
Alec Ruth OL 6'7, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8264
Evan Applegate OL 6'6, 270 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8473
Scott Frantz OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8450
Adam Holtorf OL 6'4, 279 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119

5. A bad line with two all-conference guys?

Advanced stats are limited, especially when it comes to line play. Your run-blocking stats depend on the runner actually taking advantage of the blocks, and your pass-blocking stats depend on the quarterback actually staying in his protected area and throwing in a timely fashion.

Jake Waters was prone to holding onto the ball a little too long to make a play sometimes, and it was hard to be too impressed with the job Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson were doing when they had the ball. So it's certainly understandable to assume that iffy line stats were due at least in part to that.

But KSU's line stats were really, really bad. Adjusting for opponent, the Wildcats were in the bottom 20 in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate. Opponents made a ton of stops behind the line, and KSU converted a pretty poor number of its short-yardage opportunity. The stats were so bad that there's no way the line came away unscathed there. And if you watched the Auburn game, you saw the line getting completely manhandled by a line that was athletic but wasn't actually that effective in other games.

Even more confusing: KSU produced these line stats with two all-conference guys: four-year starting center B.J. Finney and three-year starting tackle Cody Whitehair. What's in store now that Finney's gone?

That KSU returns four linemen who have combined for 81 career starts isn't a bad thing. But with a new quarterback and receiving corps, the line is going to have to come up awfully big. Can it?

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.76 22 IsoPPP+ 111.2 39
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.8% 102 Succ. Rt. + 99.0 70
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.7 21 Off. FP+ 105.0 20
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 79 Redzone S&P+ 99.4 65
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.8 ACTUAL 21.0 +1.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 41 52 63 39
RUSHING 33 53 35 65
PASSING 65 52 93 23
Standard Downs 48 50 48
Passing Downs 48 103 17
Q1 Rk 54 1st Down Rk 49
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 52
Q3 Rk 87 3rd Down Rk 60
Q4 Rk 29

6. Attack the run, bend against the pass

Since Snyder's return to the KSU sideline, the Wildcats' defense has been defined by a bend-don't-break style, taking on Big 12 spreads and letting them complete all the 6-yard passes they want while preventing big stuff and hoping to force (or simply take advantage of) an eventual mistake.

The 2014 defense was interesting, however: it was all sorts of bendable against the pass -- opponents completed 62 percent of their passes and produced nearly a 130 passer rating -- but the run defense was almost 1990s-esque in its inflexibility and pursuit. KSU was willing to risk big plays to stuff the run, and it helped to nearly bring down Auburn despite so many offensive issues. TCU and UCLA had a field day on the ground, combining to rush for 665 yards at 7.6 yards per carry; everybody else on the schedule, however, averaged just 3.3 per carry.

KSU must replace end Ryan Mueller, tackle Valentino Coleman, and two solid linebackers in Jonathan Truman and Dakorey Johnson. Johnson was a dynamo against the run, racking up nine non-sack tackles for loss in just 11 games. But because of injuries, quite a few players got playing time up front, and that could pay off in 2015, and the Wildcats might have the pieces to stay aggressive against the ground game.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 106 3.05 3.24 36.5% 60.9% 21.0% 96.7 3.5% 8.0%
Rank 39 81 61 34 29 42 73 91 52
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ryan Mueller DE
13 34.0 4.8% 11.0 6.0 0 2 1 0
Will Geary DT 6'0, 297 So. NR NR 13 23.5 3.3% 2.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Valentino Coleman DT
12 22.0 3.1% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Travis Britz DT 6'4, 293 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8016 10 21.5 3.0% 5.0 3.0 0 2 0 0
Jordan Willis DE 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8109 13 18.5 2.6% 7.0 4.5 0 1 0 0
Marquel Bryant DE 6'3, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8427 13 16.5 2.3% 4.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Demonte Hood DT 6'0, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8150 7 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Matt Seiwert DT 6'3, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7856 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Terrell Clinkscales DT
8 2.0 0.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tanner Wood DE 6'5, 263 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8847 13 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Reese DT 6'1, 265 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8264
Aulelio Olomua DE 6'5, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8447
Joshua Little DE 6'4, 233 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8342
Reggie Walker DE 6'3, 232 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625
Bryce English DT 5'11, 318 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8556
Trey Dishon DT 6'3, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8194








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jonathan Truman LB
13 103.5 14.7% 4.5 0.0 0 1 0 1
Dakorey Johnson LB
11 48.0 6.8% 9.0 0.0 1 2 1 1
Will Davis LB 6'0, 224 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8524 13 28.0 4.0% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Elijah Lee LB 6'3, 218 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8612 13 17.0 2.4% 4.5 4.5 0 1 1 0
Trent Tanking LB 6'2, 220 So. NR NR 13 8.0 1.1% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Colborn Couchman LB 6'2, 218 Jr. NR NR 13 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Charmeachealle Moore (2013) LB 6'0, 221 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8000 13 6.0 0.8% 2.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Sam Sizelove LB 6'3, 217 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8478
Jayd Kirby LB 6'2, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) NR
Elijah Sullivan LB 6'1, 204 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8835
Justin Hughes LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8166
Chase Johnston LB 6'3, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8166








7. Few worries about run defense

Ryan Mueller was a rock solid pass-rusher, but in ends Jordan Willis and Marquel Bryant (combined: 11 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) and a potentially dynamic blitzer in sophomore Elijah Lee (4.5 sacks in limited opportunities), it's hard to worry too much about the rush. In fact, thanks to variety, you could almost expect it to improve.

In that case, it's up to the run defense to force passing situations. Former walk-on Will Geary held his own as a redshirt freshman last year, and veterans Travis Britz and Demonte Hood should be able to replicate Coleman's production. If the linebacking corps can produce, it doesn't look like there are many worries here. Will Davis and Lee saw quite a bit of playing time, and Charmeachealle Moore was expected to be a big contributor last year before injury.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dante Barnett SS 6'1, 193 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8076 13 66.5 9.4% 4 0 3 8 0 0
Randall Evans NB
13 57.0 8.1% 4.5 0 4 10 2 0
Danzel McDaniel CB 6'1, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560 13 55.0 7.8% 5 1 1 3 2 0
Morgan Burns CB 5'11, 201 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7741 12 50.5 7.2% 3 1 3 7 0 0
Dylan Schellenberg FS
11 45.0 6.4% 0.5 0 1 3 0 0
Travis Green SS
4 17.0 2.4% 1 0 2 0 0 0
Nate Jackson NB 5'11, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8476 9 12.5 1.8% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Weston Hiebert DB
13 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Sean Newlan FS 6'2, 204 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 13 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Donnie Starks NB 6'0, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 4 5.0 0.7% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Jesse Mack CB 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8247
Kaleb Prewett FS 6'1, 204 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8534
Cre Moore CB 6'0, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8306
Nate Guidry Jr. NB 6'0, 189 So. NR 0.7700
Kendall Adams SS 6'1, 213 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8311
Colby Moore SS 6'1, 197 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7483
Duke Shelley DB 5'10, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8757
Darreyl Patterson DB 6'0, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503

8. Got safeties?

KSU plays with five defensive backs for a majority of the time at this point, but for a while in 2014, it was tough to find five DBs to play. Eight of them averaged at least 0.8 tackles per game, but only four played in all 13 games.

This was already expected to be a problematic unit in 2014, as the Wildcats were tasked with replacing four of their top eight from the year before, and it almost certainly led to KSU playing incredibly conservative pass defense, even by its own standards.

Depth will again take a hit with the loss of four of last year's top eight. But there's reason to believe the Wildcats have more firepower this time around. Barnett managed to bring some play-making prowess to a unit that needed it last year, and both Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns had their moments at cornerback. Nate Jackson could give KSU four starters in the secnodary, and sophomore Kaleb Prewett has been regarded as a jewel since he signed. If Duke Shelley or Darreyl Patterson, two of KSU's most prized signees in the 2015 class, can force their way into the rotation, this unit should be just fine.

So if the pass-rush improves, the run defense remains just about the same, and the secondary is healthy and active ... that makes a pretty good defense, yes?

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Nick Walsh 5'11, 212 So. 44 41.3 5 20 15 79.5%
Mitch Lochbihler 6'7, 240 So. 2 38.0 0 1 0 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ian Patterson 6'0, 211 Jr. 83 61.8 25 3 30.1%
Jack Cantele 6'0, 175 Sr. 6 44.7 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Matthew McCrane 5'10, 165 So. 41-42 12-13 92.3% 6-6 100.0%
Jack Cantele 6'0, 175 Sr. 11-12 3-4 75.0% 2-5 40.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyler Lockett KR 18 20.1 0
Morgan Burns KR 5'11, 201 Sr. 12 30.7 1
Tyler Lockett PR 21 19.1 2
Judah Jones PR 2 13.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 4
Field Goal Efficiency 39
Punt Return Efficiency 2
Kick Return Efficiency 28
Punt Efficiency 81
Kickoff Efficiency 32
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 69

9. Bill Snyder doesn't do bad special teams

Since Snyder's return in 2009, KSU has ranked 18th, ninth, 29th, first, 33rd, and fourth in special teams efficiency. Special teams ratings are volatile and based on small samples, but KSU finds itself at or near the top of the rankings every year regardless.

Obviously special teams will have to carry some weight this fall with the offense facing an identity change, but Lockett's graduation will have an impact beyond the offense: He was also a good kick return man and a spectacular punt return man. In Morgan Burns, it appears KSU might still be in good shape on kickoffs, and the legs look mostly fine -- nearly half of Nick Walsh's punts were fair caught, few of Ian Patterson's kickoffs were particularly returnable, and place-kicker Matthew McCrane thrived after he took over for struggling Jack Cantele after the Auburn game. This unit will still be a strength, but we'll see if punt returns are a liability or not.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep South Dakota NR
12-Sep at UTSA 121
19-Sep Louisiana Tech 50
3-Oct at Oklahoma State 43
10-Oct TCU 18
17-Oct Oklahoma 10
24-Oct at Texas 36
5-Nov Baylor 14
14-Nov at Texas Tech 53
21-Nov Iowa State 86
28-Nov at Kansas 95
5-Dec at West Virginia 40
Five-Year F/+ Rk 25.6% (21)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 58 / 60
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 8 / 4.1
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (6, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 8.3 (0.7)

10. The big dogs all come to Manhattan

Thanks to the current conference balance of power, scheduling will play a huge role in this year's Big 12 race. Oklahoma State and Kansas State get all the top teams at home, while Texas and WVU get them on the road.

This schedule could make KSU a conference dark horse, but the offense scares me a little too much. It is always possible that Joe Hubener, Jonathan Banks, or one of the other QB candidates thrives and that a redefined KSU offense does more than enough to set the table for a good defense and great special teams. But as it stands, an improved defense will likely be forced to simply offset offensive regression, and KSU will likely finish in the No. 25-35 range again. That makes the Wildcats good enough to knock off at least one conference contender (unless they're as poor against top teams as they were last year), but it probably doesn't make them good enough to challenge for the crown.

We don't know how much time we've got left with Bill Snyder before he retires for a second time, and we're probably taking him for granted. It would be fun to see him make one more run at Big 12 title and major bowl, but if it is to happen, it probably won't be this year. KSU will have to settle for "merely" being good again.