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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
|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%|
|20-Nov||at West Virginia||40||26-20||W||73%||14.3||81%|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||19||1st Down Rk||24|
|Q2 Rk||43||2nd Down Rk||38|
|Q3 Rk||34||3rd Down Rk||27|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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."
|Charles Jones||RB||5'10, 206||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||133||540||13||4.1||3.1||38.3%||1||1|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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?
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||54||1st Down Rk||49|
|Q2 Rk||33||2nd Down Rk||52|
|Q3 Rk||87||3rd Down Rk||60|
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.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Will Geary||DT||6'0, 297||So.||NR||NR||13||23.5||3.3%||2.5||2.0||0||0||1||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|
|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|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|Nate Jackson||NB||5'11, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8476||9||12.5||1.8%||0||0||0||3||0||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?
|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%|
|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%|
|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%|
|Morgan Burns||KR||5'11, 201||Sr.||12||30.7||1|
|Special Teams F/+||4|
|Field Goal Efficiency||39|
|Punt Return Efficiency||2|
|Kick Return Efficiency||28|
|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
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|3-Oct||at Oklahoma State||43|
|14-Nov||at Texas Tech||53|
|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.