Is K-State slipping, or can Snyder turn it around?
Posted: Tuesday June 14, 2005 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday June 14, 2005 5:23PM
Can quarterback Allen Webb lead K-State back to respectability in 2005?
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It's one of those things that kind of got lost in the shuffle last season, what with other, more pressing stories such as Auburn's Orange Bowl slight, Utah's BCS run and Penn State's quest for a first down. But with season-preview time fast approaching, I recently conducted a little self-refresher course on how certain teams fared last season and couldn't help but do a double-take upon reaching one particular squad.
Kansas State really went 4-7 last year?
I realize this would not have been considered big news back in the 1980s ... or '70s, '60s, '50s or '40s. But lest you've been living under a rock during the past decade, you may remember that the men of Manhattan had, until last year, been making regular appearances in the top 10, having produced six 11-win seasons during a seven-year span (granted, some of those win totals may have been inflated by head coach Bill Snyder's traditional Louisiana-Lafayette/Ball State/Western Kentucky preseason tour, but it was impressive nonetheless). Just the year before last, KSU went 11-4 and stomped previously undefeated Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game behind a Herculean performance by should-have-been-a-Heisman-finalist running back Darren Sproles.
Then, last season, both Sproles and the Wildcats suddenly vanished off the face of the earth, finishing tied for last in a division -- the Big 12 North -- where none of the other teams were particularly good, either, and prompting Dennis McCulloch of Kansas City, Mo., to ask:
Can Bill Snyder rebuild the Wildcats to their '90s level again? He recruited from Texas when that state's schools were down. Now that those programs are back up -- and given Snyder's age -- can he bring K-State back?
My initial instinct would be to say yes, absolutely, of course he will. Look what happened the last time the Wildcats had a "down" season, in 2001, when they went 6-6 and were stomped by Syracuse in the Insight.com Bowl. They came right out the next year and went 11-2. Quarterback Ell Roberson, who struggled through a season-long shuffle with Marc Dunn in '01, emerged as a star in '02 much the same way many K-State followers expect the talented Allen Webb to do this year after splitting time last season with Dylan Meier.
Still, there was something particularly troubling about last year's Kansas State team: It was terrible on defense, allowing nearly 31 points per game. In the past, no matter how much player turnover occurred from year-to-year, no matter the revolving door of defensive coordinators (Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Phil Bennett, Bret Bielema), you could always count on a dominating defense from Snyder's crew.
Bielema's departure after the 2004 season to Wisconsin -- where he instantly turned the Badgers into one of the nation's top defenses -- and the loss of seven starters probably didn't help, but the fact is the Wildcats simply lacked the type of playmakers they've had in the past, particularly in the secondary, whose members were a far cry from Terence Newman, Jarrod Cooper, Chris Canty et al. And I don't put much stock in the Texas recruiting theory, because Mack Brown and Bob Stoops have been cleaning up there for years and K-State was still doing just fine until last season.
Though KSU's defense should be better, on the whole I'm having trouble finding reasons to be overly optimistic about Snyder's prospects this season. The 'Cats lose not only Sproles, who was basically their entire offense last year, but four experienced offensive linemen. And even if K-State is improved, you have to think the rest of the Big 12 North can't help but be, either.
Colorado, the division champ last year with an inspiring 4-4 conference record, returns 17 starters. Iowa State, behind breakout freshman QB Bret Meyer and receiver Todd Blythe, showed the most promise of anyone the second half of the season. Nebraska won't yet be ready to return to elite status this year, but should be better equipped to run Bill Callahan's West Coast offense now that he's recruited a couple of quarterbacks who can throw. Missouri, lest you forget, still has Brad Smith, one of the most talented players in the country when his coach isn't screwing with his head. And Kansas probably would have reached a bowl game last season had quarterback Adam Barmann not gotten hurt.
Snyder will always be remembered for orchestrating arguably the greatest turnaround of a program in college football history, and, because his recalcitrant nature, probably doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. Let's hope he's not on the verge of a Paterno-like slide that would erode his final legacy.