2011 Record: 10-3 (7-2 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Bill Snyder (159-83-1 All-Time, 89-64-1 in Big 12)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Cotton Bowl: lost to Arkansas 29-16
Revenge: 9/22 at Oklahoma, 11/3 vs Oklahoma St
Stat to Cheer: +0.92 turnover margin in 2011 (2nd in Big 12)
Stats to Fear: allowed 43 sacks in 2011 (last in Big 12)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 6; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Arthur Brown (101 tackles, 2 sacks), CB Nigel Malone (58 tackles, 7 INT), DL Meshak Williams (28 tackles, 7 sacks), S Ty Zimmerman (58 tackles, 2 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Collin Klein (27 rushing TD, 13 passing TD, 6 INT), RB John Hubert (970 yds rush), WR Chris Harper (40 rec, 5 TD)
Inside Scoop with Bring On the Cats:
CFBZ: Outside of Collin Klein, who are the players to watch on this offense?
Bring On the Cats: Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Lockett is a good place to start. He was just starting to find his way as a receiver last season when he fell on the ball against Oklahoma State and lacerated his liver. His skills as a kick returner will probably be somewhat neutralized by the new kickoff rules, but he should be improved as a receiver this season.
That may be kind of a slight to senior Chris Harper, who led K-State in receiving last season. He was steady and reliable, and has shown the ability to get behind the safety. If Klein can find him deep more consistently on play action this season, K-State's offense should be much more explosive.
Finally, a bit of a wildcard here. B.J. Finney is an excellent center and, even as just a sophomore, will anchor K-State's line. Some have been doubtful of K-State because a couple linemen departed, but with Finney back in the middle and returnees Nick Puetz and Ethan Douglas, there shouldn't be a huge dropoff here.
CFBZ: A lot of people are down on Kansas State this season, citing their close victories from last season. What is your take on all of their close victories last year and how that might impact this season?
Bring On the Cats: There's good reason for skepticism based on last season's results. If you look closely at last season's games, K-State was two identifiable plays from being an 8-4 team. In the Miami game, linebacker Tre Walker tackled Jacori Harris less than a yard short of the goal line on the last play of the game, a play that was so close it was initially ruled a touchdown. Had that game taken place before instant replay, K-State would have lost.
Against Texas A&M, K-State trailed 28-21 and the Aggies had the ball back with less than 9:30 remaining in the game. Cyrus Gray broke into the open and looked like he had a touchdown. Backup safety Matt Pearson, the fastest player on K-State's team who was only in the game because starting safety Tysyn Hartman was hurt, made an incredible play to chase him down at the K-State nine-yard line. K-State ended up holding A&M to a field goal and trailed by 10 with 6:38 to play. If Gray scores a touchdown there, the Aggies lead 35-21 and K-State has to score two touchdowns in 6:38 to tie. Not impossible, certainly, but very much unlikely.
Other than those two plays in particular, there were a couple games where discipline, good execution and great effort conspired with a little bit of good fortune to result in a win. Against Baylor, Arthur Brown made two spectacular plays against Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, but it didn't hurt that Art Briles turned conservative with his game plan in the fourth quarter despite the fact that K-State hadn't stopped the Bears all day. In Austin, K-State got a favorable kick-catch interference call right before halftime and won despite only gaining 121 total yards on the day. Combine all that with a +12 turnover margin for the season, and the skepticism is understandable. I'm not going to say that these types of things are pure luck, but it's understandable that outsiders see a regression to the mean for K-State this season.
CFBZ: What areas do you see as the Wildcats biggest potential weaknesses this year and who needs to step up in those areas?
Bring On the Cats: Defensive line is a huge question mark this season. Ray Kibble, Raphael Guidry and Jordan Voelker all depart from a unit that was just average last season. Someone is going to have to step up in the middle to stop the run. Meshak Williams is a pretty good pass-rush specialist, but he's going to need some help, too, or Big 12 quarterbacks are going to have all day to pick apart the secondary.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Bring On the Cats: Last year, my preseason prediction was 6-6. The 10-win season in 2010 raises those expectations some, but not as much as it has for some others. As noted above, K-State was two identifiable plays away from 8-4 last season, and had things not worked out against Baylor and Texas, could easily have been 6-6.
Then you have to figure in the schedule. K-State visits Norman, Ames, Morgantown, Fort Worth and Waco this year. Texas and Oklahoma State are just one question mark (quarterback) from being really good this season. Even Texas Tech could be a tough out if they rediscover what they had going the first half of last season.
My gut feeling is that 8-4 is probably a reasonable prediction for this team, and I would consider that a successful year. I foresee likely losses to Oklahoma and West Virginia. Two more losses probably emerge from somewhere among Iowa State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas. If everything goes right like it did in 2010, this team's ceiling is probably 10 wins again. If everything reverts to the mean, Bill Connelly's 6-6 prediction comes into play, but I still think that's the floor for K-State this year.
Kansas State was one of the surprise teams last year and it got Bill Snyder some mentions as coach of the year. K-State improved by three games over the 2010 season and won four more conference games than they did in 2010. The season was characterized by close victories as the Wildcats won eight games by a touchdown or less. Can K-State keep up their string of close victories this season or will we see a regression?
The biggest reason to think the Wildcats can continue on the winning path is their senior leader Collin Klein. Last year Klein was a workhorse. His strength was running the football as he led the team in rushing with 1141 yards and an eye-popping 27 TDs. The Wildcats running game was also helped out by John Hubert. He returns for his junior season and will look to improve on his 970 rushing yards from last year. For K-State to maintain their win level from last year Klein has to do a better job avoiding sacks and the passing game needs to improve. Like Tye mentioned in the Q&A, Tyler Lockett could be the player that helps the Wildcats passing game get on track this year as he has the big play ability that the Wildcats seemed to be missing in 2011.
Statistically, Kansas State had a middle of the pack Big 12 defense but what they did was make plays when they needed to make them (goal line stand at Miami, late game plays against Baylor, key tackle against A&M). Arthur Brown went from transfer to the team leader in tackles and made a big difference on the defense. While Tye lists the defensive line as an opportunity, they did improve a lot from 2010 to 2011 and they return some good players. When you play in the Big 12, a lot of times it comes down to how good your pash rush is and how good your secondary plays with those two things going hand and hand. K-State has some players in the secondary but they will have to replace three defensive backs that were their second, third and fourth leading tacklers last season.
I've mentioned this before but I really think the Big 12 is going to be a league where teams are going to pick each other off and there will be several teams that are clumped together when the dust settles. Kansas State can be as good as any team in this league but they also have the possibility of falling as far as sixth or seventh place in the conference. I was impressed by what Bill Snyder accomplished and my expectation would be for K-State to compete in every game this year and win the majority of them. I'm not expecting a big fall off for Kansas State.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
Top 25 Countdown
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
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