For Kansas State, it was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and in several ways I suppose it was. But I think the more appropriate term might bet to say it was a building year. This season was fun in the end. Next season could be special.
Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats finished an odd 2013 with an 8-5 record with a resounding 31-13 victory over the Michigan Wolverines in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl. In a lot of ways it was a frustrating campaign. The first two months of the season were a mess. The Wildcats sat at 2-4 with a three point loss to three-time FCS Champion North Dakota State, 10 point loss to Texas, four point loss to Oklahoma State, and a 10 point loss to Baylor. In three of those games, the Wildcats held a fourth quarter lead. It was, without question, going to be a long rebuilding season.
Only it didn’t happen that way.
This was perhaps one of Snyder’s best coaching jobs. Outside of his early years, the in-season coaching job he and his staff did this season was remarkable. The defense that couldn’t get off of the field on that final drive against North Dakota State, turned into an asset by the end of the year. That defense, with the exact same players that couldn’t stop a team a division below them, took the field in Tempe Saturday and held Michigan to 261 yards, 82 of which came on its final drive against the K-State backups.
If you’ve heard Bill Snyder speak, you’ve basically heard the same thing for 22 seasons. One day at a time. Get better every day. Intrinsic values. When he has a team that buys into it, the sky is the limit. This season marked three straight years when his team has bought in. It took some time this year, but with the first bowl win at K-State since 2002, it has to feel like a wildly successful season. Obviously there will be a new team next year, with new players and team leaders to buy into those old Snyder beliefs. But the losses aren’t quite as severe as they were between 2012 and 2013 when Snyder had to say goodbye to Colin Klein and Arthur Brown. Losing Ty Zimmerman will hurt, as will losing John Hubert, Tramaine Thompson and two starting offensive tackles. But Jake Waters, Daniel Sams, Tyler Lockett, and Ryan Mueller should all be back next year. Waters and Lockett being the most important.
When Snyder has a senior quarterback that started every game as a junior, which has happened five times previously, his record is a combined 53-12. Two of those five quarterbacks were Heisman Trophy finalists. In three of those seasons the Wildcats were legitimate national title contenders. A fourth quarter Michael Bishop fumble cost them a shot in 1998. In 2003 it was a broken hand on Ell Roberson that did them in.
Of course last season it was the mysterious injury to Colin Klein, the broken leg of Ty Zimmerman, and the Baylor Bears that led to K-States ascension to the No. 1 ranking being a short lived one.
Jake Waters will be Snyder’s sixth returning senior quarterback in 2014. Just look at the improvement the five previous ones made:
- Chad May-1993: 185-of-351 52.7% 16 TD/10 INT 2,682 yards; 1994: 200-of-337 59.3% 18 TD/6 INT 2,571 yards
- Michael Bishop-1997: 185-of-351 43.2% 13 TD/8 INT 1,557 yards; 1998: 164-of-295 55.6% 23 TD/5 INT 2,884 yards
- Jonathan Beasley-1999: 90-of-203 44.3% 14 TD/7 INT 1,805 yards; 2000: 153-of-313 49.8% 17 TD/10 INT 2,636 yards
- Ell Roberson-2002: 91-of-175 52.0% 7 TD/4 INT 1,580 yards; 2003: 152-of-294 51.7% 24 TD/12 INT 2,545 yards
- Collin Klein-2011: 161-of-281 57.3% 13 TD/6 INT 1,918 yards; 197-of-304 64.8% 16 TD/9 INT 2,641 yards
I have to admit, out of all of those guys, I wouldn’t have guessed that Klein would have had the season with the highest completion percentage.
Waters, much like the season itself was up and down in 2013. He finished the year completing 159-of-260 passes, 61.2% with 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. And those interceptions always seemed to be at critical times. He must get better when teams blitz, and we saw some of that in the game Saturday. We even saw a screen pass to a running back called, which K-State hasn’t called consistently in years.
The Big 12 Champion will almost assuredly make the four team playoff next year, and with what the Wildcats have returning, they will be in the conversation for that. I’m sure in the mind if Bill Snyder, an early season matchup with the Auburn Tigers is a horrible gift left to him by Ron Prince. Auburn very well could be the defending national champion, and that will be the biggest non-conference game K-State has played since the 2002 game with No. 11 USC.
Now if Tyler Lockett shocks everyone and decides to leave early for the NFL, please disregard this entire post. Set it on fire. Without Lockett, the Wildcats would be losing their top three skill possession players, along with Tramaine Thompson and John Hubert. Someone could get in Lockett’s head I suppose, convincing him he could be Tavon Austin or Dexter McCluster, but I don’t think he’s wired likes that. He’s different than both of those guys. Faster than McCluster but less shifty than Austin, Lockett is more of a pure wide receiver than those two.
The addition of Andre Coleman to the staff this season has taken what was a remarkable special teams player and good receiver and turned him into probably the best wideout in the Big 12. Lockett has turned himself into one of the best route runners in all of college football, nearly impossible to cover one on one. If he returns, as he should, his chemistry with Waters will only get better. And it was about as good as it gets the last half of this season.
The K-State recruiting class is all but done. On paper it looks good. But when it comes to K-State recruiting classes, it doesn’t really matter how good they look on paper. It’s how well they adjust to the K-State culture. If they meld with Snyder, Waters, Lockett and Mueller, 2014 could end up being one of the most special years of Snyder’s tenure in Manhattan.