Bill Snyder may be the least pirate-y head coach in all of college football, but the quote from the clip above is one of the most apt descriptions for the brand of football his team puts on the field. Kansas State is one of the most perpetually underrated programs in the country, and a big reason for that is the fact that they very rarely have stars, highlight reel plays, or any of the other things that land you a spot on SportsCenter, but what they do have is a group of players committing to playing mistake-free football. Much like a defensive tennis player, the Wildcats are content to sit back, play their game, not allow you to take anything from them, and wait until you beat yourself. They do that better than any program in the country, or at least they have for the last few seasons.
Given what was just said about the team from the “Little Apple”, it may surprise you to learn that they have a “Gronk”. But it is true! Glenn Gronkowski, younger brother of Rob, plays FB/TE for the Wildcats, and should be a difference maker both as a lead blocker, pass catcher and potential short yardage bruiser.
“Little Gronk” should also be helping out one of the stronger lines in the conference. All-Big12 center B.J. Finney will be tough to replace, but the other four starters from last season’s offensive line are all back, including second team All-Big12 left tackle Cody Whitehair. Left guard Boston Stiverson is another solid player along this line, and is second only to Whitehair in experience with eighteen career starts. Redshirt freshman Dalton Risner is expected to be Finney’s replacement at center.
Quarterback questions are one of the major reasons why Kansas State will be undervalued yet again in 2015. Joe Hubener steps up after throwing only 17 passes as Jake Waters’ backup last season. He threw one touchdown and one interception over those pass attempts, but if Bill Snyder’s track record with quarterbacks counts for anything then it’s a safe bet that Hubener, if nothing else, will be able to say he accounted for more touchdowns than turnovers at the end of the season.
With Kansas State’s propensity to use the quarterback in the running game, it isn’t often that they have a running back put up big number. That held true last year also, but it never hurts to bring back a rusher who topped 500 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground. That’s what Charles Jones did last year, and while Hubener displayed a similar ability to his predecessors to run with the ball, it will help him out to have Jones behind (or beside) him to take some of those carries, and limit the hits Hubener has to take.
As you may have just read in the Baylor preview, not many teams get to say they can return 1,000-yard receivers, and Kansas State is losing two. Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett combined for over 2,500 receiving yards last season, and neither one is coming back. That leaves a huge burden on leading returning receivers Kody Cook and Deante Burton. Burton and Cook were vastly overshadowed last season, combining for a mere 422 yards. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be productive this season.
One of the hallmarks of a team that employs a “make others beat themselves” style of play is a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Kansas State is no exception to that, and in the Big 12 it’s honestly pretty difficult not to play that way. The Wildcats also do it as well as anybody. The defensive numbers won’t wow you, but they aren’t supposed to either. All Bill Snyder expects from his defense is to give them a chance and make other teams work to score, and they usually do it pretty well.
Another reason to be optimistic about this Wildcat defense is the strong secondary. Both corners Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns are back, as is safety Dante Barnett. These three had a combined for seven interceptions and 18 pass break-ups last season. They all each topped 50 tackles too. There are a couple of new starters that have to be broken in, but they will at least have some experienced guys next to them to bring them along. Kaleb Prewett is expected to be the free safety, despite not seeing the field as a true freshman last season. Nate Jackson also has not played much in his first three years in Manhattan, but will take the field at nickelback for the ‘Cats.
Given the 4-2-5 base defense, Kansas State obviously uses a front six rather than the traditional front seven, but either way only two starters return at the front end of this defense. Jordan Willis leads the returning linemen in “havoc” plays after posting seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year. Travis Britz and Will Geary are also fairly experienced players even if only Britz is considered a returning starter. Both topped 20 tackles last season, and Britz had five tackles for loss and three sacks.
A major source of concern for the defense has to be replacing both guys in the middle, especially Jonathan Truman, who topped the 100-tackle milestone last season. Will Davis and Elijah Lee both saw some action last season, and Lee actually showed some potential as a pass rusher recording 4.5 sacks as a freshman last year. Davis did get to start six games for the Wildcats, so while he wasn’t the full-time starter, it is worth noting that he does have starting experience.
Plenty of people are bearish on the Wildcats this season with their quarterback and a pair of productive receivers gone, but they have been a consistent program ever since Bill Snyder returned to coach the team. Since Snyder returned in 2009, the Wildcats have had a winning record and been to a bowl game in all but his first season back. They also hit the double-digit win mark twice in that span. There may not be a lot on this roster that jumps out at you on paper, but sometimes there’s something to be said for having faith in the system. It also helps that the Wildcats get TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor at home, and I think it’s pretty likely that one of those three get upset in Manhattan.