Does Bill Snyder have any more magic left up his sleeve?
The college football season is rapidly approaching, and as the hunger for the upcoming season gets stronger, we’ve got something here at SQ that will hold your appetite for the time being. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out previews of the teams in our top-25. We last checked in with #21 Texas. Today we continue our countdown with #20 Kansas State.
Team Name: Kansas State
2016 Record: 9-4
Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked
Coach: Bill Snyder (202-105, 26th year)
Key Departures: OG Cody Whitehair, CB Morgan Burns, FB Glenn Gronkowski, RB Charles Jones, WR Deante Burton, LB Charmeachealle Moore, DB Dante Barnett, DL Jordan Willis
Previewing Kansas State’s Offense
The Kansas State offense is like a well-oiled machine — a dual-threat QB that makes people miss, a powerful fullback, and a strong offensive line make for an efficient attack. Quarterback Jesse Ertz is an explosive athlete that, unfortunately, won’t get the credit he deserves due to playing in a league that features the likes of Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. Either way, Ertz is going to make plenty of people miss with his speed after rushing for over 1,000 yards last season, scoring 12 times. Not to mention, he’s also a pretty good passer himself, completing 152 passes for 1,755 yards.
Bill Snyder will continue to reload in the backfield after losing senior Charles Jones to graduation. Although Jones was the primary starter, both Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon showed strong potential at the end of last season. Barnes showed what he was capable of when he carried the ball 29 times for 232 yards, scoring five touchdowns against Baylor and Kansas. Then Silmon came on for the final two games against TCU and Texas A&M by rushing for 210 yards on 32 carries, averaging 6.56 yards per carry.
But what’s really important for this offense is the fact that nearly all of its blocking power is still intact. The line returns four out of five starters, including two all-conference guys in tackle Dalton Risner and center Reid Najvar. However, the line isn’t the only elite blocking tool that Ertz and co. have: all-conference fullback Winston Dimel has got plenty of strength to hold his own in the backfield.
Putting all these pieces together should create an offense that’s going to eat a lot of clock, while still having enough explosiveness to compete with the likes of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Expect to see this run game make a lot of people miss in the open field. They’ll force their opponents into one-on-one matchups, often winning those battles with the speed they have.
Previewing Kansas State’s Defense
In a conference that’s dominated by pass-heavy offenses, Kansas State ranked near the bottom of the cellar in defending the air attack. Although the Wildcats finished second-to-last in the Big 12 in terms of pass defense (272.7 yards per game), this is an area that took significant strides over the last four games of the season. In these final four contests, Kansas State allowed an average of 252 yards per game, while surrounding just 5.79 yards per attempt, and picking off seven passes.
This was in large part due to the pass rush that was generated by defensive ends Jordan Willis, Trey Dishon, and Reggie Walker. Willis, who totaled 11.5 sacks in his final season, totaled 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss over this stretch. Dishon and Walker, meanwhile, combined for nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. And while Dishon and Walker return to build upon their rookie campaigns, Willis must be replaced. A combination of Kyle Ball and Tanner Wood could work after the duo combined for four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
A name to remember in 2017— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 21, 2017
Reggie Walker Kansas State
Walker had 6.5 sacks in 2016 pic.twitter.com/dM2prrNP0Y
The secondary is going to be busy defending passes this year, but this unit is one of the bright spots on the team. Corners D.J. Reed and Duke Shelley highlight the unit, each accounting for three interceptions last season, while combining for 20 pass breakups in 2016. The safeties will also play a big part in pass defense this season, and Kansas State fans should be excited about what they have in Kendall Adams and Cre Moore. Adams finished fifth on the team in tackles with 62, but was also able to pick off two passes last season. Moore saw limited action off the bench last season, but of the 11 tackles he did make, three were for a loss. In addition, JUCO signee Elijah Walker should compete for some playing time in the safety slot as well.
If Kansas State can generate a disruptive pass rush, it should create enough havoc to play into the hands of this secondary. Getting good pressure off the edge will force opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball before they want to, thus allowing the DBs to pick off or deflect passes in their direction.
Three Key Games
1. Oct. 7 at Texas - This series has gone back and forth over the last few seasons with each team trading home wins. K-State must travel to Austin this year to take on the Longhorns, and it’s going to be just as tough this time around, as this year’s Texas squad has a lot of talent and a new head coach that brings plenty of firepower with him. Tom Herman’s squad is the dark horse choice to win the Big 12 this year, but this Kansas State team should give it all it can handle. The Wildcats are going to slow the game down on offense, and that just might be enough to make the Longhorns a little too antsy, forcing mistakes in key spots.
2. Oct. 21 vs. Oklahoma - Can someone please tell me why Kansas State scheduled Oklahoma for its homecoming game? Well, this will definitely be the can’t miss game for the Wildcats this season, so I guess this would actually be the best weekend for that. Bob Stoops may no longer coach the Sooners, but Oklahoma still has plenty of firepower under Lincoln Reilly. Baker Mayfield is going to be the toughest quarterback this team faces all year, but if K-State can generate enough of a pass rush against him, it might just fluster him a little too much. If both of these teams are undefeated heading into this contest, it’s not out of this world to think that this could be a top-10 matchup.
3. Nov. 18 at Oklahoma State - This year is Mike Gundy’s best shot at hitting the big time with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys return most of their high-powered offense, including QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington. This was one heck of a battle last season with Kansas State ultimately falling at home, 43-37. However, it was the Wildcats only loss over their final seven games. This one could very well come down to the wire once again with the explosiveness that each of these teams has on offense.
Snyder’s recovery from throat cancer will definitely have an effect on this team, whether it’s noticeable or not. He already stepped back in the spring while undergoing treatment, and it’s clear that his time at K-State will soon come to an end. However, if there’s anything that can be learned from Snyder, it’s that we should never underestimate the magic that he has up his sleeve when it comes to his Wildcats.
This team has plenty of weapons and explosiveness on offense to compete with anyone in the Big 12. Ertz is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, but that may be in his favor as there won’t be as much pressure on him. His ability to beat defenses with his legs is a game changer, but his arm certainly doesn’t lag far behind. Having a great offensive line will surely help open up holes and create lanes for him to get into open space as well. But other than Ertz, expect Barnes and Silmon to get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball this season.
If the pass defense can continue to build off of last season’s late success, and find a good enough pass rusher to replace Willis, then the defense should be just fine. This defense just needs to bend and not break. If it can limit the damage against big offensive foes like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas, then they should find themselves in there until the end.
Overall, this team should hover around that eight to nine win range. The schedule does Snyder’s team no favors by having to go on the road to Vanderbilt, Texas, and Oklahoma State. However, Snyder has overcome tougher odds before to make this team great. It might seem like a long shot to win a conference title this season, but if the Wildcats can get a couple of these tough games to go their way, the Big 12 could fall to them.
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