Kansas State football: No Disney for old men

“Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?” – Anton Chigurh

The Disney screenplay would have made this the season for the Kansas State Wildcats.No Disney for old men

A legendary coach battles cancer in the offseason and overcomes it in time to be on the sideline. His team is experienced and talented by all accounts — in a perfect position to take advantage of some cracks in the Big 12’s best teams and march up the polls into the national semifinal (provided a few things go right). It would have been so perfect.

As it is, there is no Disney for old men.

Kansas State should be 5-1 at this point, and there is plenty of specific blame to go around for this team sitting at 3-3. Add in a hurt Jesse Ertz and the disappointment that came with watching just how one-dimensional Alex Delton still is, and it leaves one to wonder: Injuries stink, sure, but what were we all thinking? Did we simply overvalue what Bill Snyder, Dana Dimel, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff bring to the table at this point? It’s not like this offense was humming along before Ertz’s health issues.

On the other hand, c’mon, it wasn’t that farfetched to think 2017 should have been a big season, was it?

An experienced defense was going to anchor and support an offense that didn’t have any superstars but was generally loaded (supposedly) at the skill positions. Those two units would have the safety net of all-world special teams and a staff led by Bill Snyder. And, consider this:

According to sportsreference.com, K-State has never had a weaker strength of schedule under Bill Snyder, which is saying something. (In fact, in 106 years, the 2017 slate currently stands as the 13th-worst KSU SOS ever.) This season was set, complete with a gradual increase in competition leading up to home games against TCU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

This team, which was positioned to be one of K-State’s most successful since 2012, instead has lurched and stalled like Axel Foley stuck a banana stuck in its offensive tailpipe. The Wildcats are eighth in the Big 12 in scoring offense (31.7 ppg – only Baylor and Kansas are worse), and dead last in total offense (373.8 ypg) and passing offense (186.2 ypg).

Some of that is Ertz getting injured, and some is TCU’s stellar defense. But, when the expectation for K-State overall was to win 10 or even 11 games counting a bowl, the floor shouldn’t be that low. This offense should be better. Period.

But here things are in mid-October where fans and media now pause as they work through the rest of the KSU schedule to find three wins. They pause because any guarantees of six wins and making a bowl are now not certain. The Wildcats will beat Kansas, but past that, while there are some likely wins, there are no 100-percent locks.

Nobody saw this kind of season coming, and the last month’s results have made it feel all sorts of unfair and wrong for those who banked on that Disney ending. For them, it feels as strikingly absurd as someone asking: Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?

And knowing the answer is a deflating … yes.

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A primer: How to tell your sports radio person is just the worst

I love talk radio. (Hi, NPR.) And, I really love sports talk radio. (Hi, Kansas City.) I loathe terrible hosts.

It leaves me sighing and muttering “… that #%@! is just the worst …” as I flip the station on to something else.

I don’t want your sports radio-listening life to be filled with angst and disappointment. So, I’ve created a guide that will help you quickly identify if your sports media person is the absolute f****** worst. I hope this lets you escape the embarrassing hell that comes when you don’t realize how much schmuck is on the other side of the microphone, and you quote it to your buddies. Nobody wants that.

And, before we start, I’m going to say “guy” in this thing because it is based on my experience in Kansas City. This is not to say girls can’t do sports radio schmuck things also. This primer doesn’t discriminate.

On we go …

“I yell, therefore I am” man: When you can’t think of any better way to counter another host or a caller except to be louder until they give up, you didn’t actually win. Well, strike that. You did win. You win schmuckiest schmuck.

Schmuck factor: 10/10

“Just an entertainer, not a journalist” man: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, this is the holy grail of schmuck. Every stinking day, this host wants you to believe them; to put your trust in them; to know that they are serving as the bastion of media truth against evil teams when they raise your ticket prices, against city politicians who try to get a new tax passed or help attempt to move your team, and against those dirty coaches who are ruining sports. (Hi, college.) And, you know, we’re inclined to give that trust because we’ve always been told that media is journalist is truthseeker. That’s how I was trained in media anyways. (How that holds up today is a whole other blog post.)

This host will scream how credible their information is because they are “connected,” and they will use that info to paint wild-ass, sometimes believable, scenarios on things like, say, Big 12 Conference expansion or contraction. Then, those scenarios are left to hang in the ether in case they come true. But, when they get proven to be insanely nuts and without merit, the “entertainer” card comes flying out.

“It’s not what this show is about,” they’ll say. “We are here for listening enjoyment and theater of the mind … not working the beat.”

Oh, well that explains it.

Schmuck factor: 10/10

“My professional life is hard” man: I have to talk on the air about sports. I have to go to major college or professional games for free and then ask a couple of questions (or just stand in the group) with a recording device in my hand. I have to watch sports at home or maybe go out and do an appearance. I might even have to record a couple of commercials.

While talking on-air does take some talent and a lot of practice to polish it up, nobody wants to hear how hard this gig is. That’s worse than having to listen to someone talk about their golf game.

Schmuck factor: 6.5/10

Hyperbole man (Hy, Hy, Hyperbole man): This happens when a guy who is paid to be exceptional at description and have a superior working knowledge of sports history isn’t good at either. It leaves him with no option but to call everything current the “best/worst/smartest/dumbest/greatest/most terrible” thing they’ve ever seen, witnessed, read, or heard. It would be one thing if it were true. After all, sometimes we do actually witness the best play ever made. But, every play or quote can’t make that cut … until it does because you don’t have enough depth, creativity, or perspective to rank it properly.

Schmuck factor: 3/10

“I know these guys, and you don’t” man: While there might be a few actual friendships that develop, especially with former athletes who become part of the media, the reality is this guy thinks having a bunch of players’ and coaches’ phone numbers, seeing them in their underwear in the locker room, and getting a postgame quote equates to “knowing” the people they cover. The *worst* part is listening to the guy insinuate how that makes them cooler than the listeners.

Schmuck factor: 5/10

“I know something you don’t know” man: This one goes hand-in-hand with the guy above. Sports media do hear a lot of things. Stories of an athlete partying, being a prick to someone at a restaurant, hanging out at a community, accepting recruiting money — those things constantly get talked about…sometimes to the point of becoming media room urban legend.

Where the schmuckiness seeps out is when a sports radio guy will boast about “knowing things” regarding athletes, but then hide behind protecting sources or relationships or some other gross, disingenuous, journalistic sanctimonious garbage. Because, you know, they’re upholding some journalistic code of honor that they don’t subscribe to ever. (See the top of the list.)

The reality? Listeners, and the people they are connected to, are the donors, families, friends, business associates, and acquaintances of the athletes the sports radio guy swears he’s closer to than they are.

Schmuck factor: 6/10

Dead horse man: “I’m talking about this only because you want to hear it.” 

There’s a whole lot of chicken/egg here. Look, sometimes, the public does talk about things that media picks up on. Sometimes, media does uncover a story that the public picks up on. But, good lord, unless there is a monumental finding of new information or a new development on a topic, a statute of limitations would be grand and appreciated.

Some new rules for today’s world:

  • If you’re three days late on talking about a topic, don’t start.
  • If you’ve talked about a topic twice in a week and nothing new has developed, move on.
  • If you’re having to dig into some far reach — introducing politics, religion, race, etc. — in order to find a new way to bring up an old topic, don’t.

You aren’t being edgy, or neat, or a deep thinker, or an advocate when you  break those rules. You’re being lazy. And when you do this on a regular basis, you rank high on the …

Schmuck factor: 6/10

“What I actually said was” man, AKA “if you were listening” man, AKA Never wrong man: If the entertainer thing doesn’t make my blood completely boil, this one does. This guy loves to say everything, literally everything, in order to have all bases covered. That way, when a caller makes a point about anything, the host can say “no, what I actually said was…”

It frees them up to say the worst things while roasting an athlete or coach or administrator, because then they can play devil’s advocate and say everything else in the name of “balance” once listeners are riled up. And then, after some time has passed, they have those same people they roasted on as a guest and play nice. And when listeners ask how or why this is possible, you say “what I actually said was…,” which can’t be disputed because you did say it, technically.

Bloody brilliant.

Schmuck factor: 15/10

So, there you have it. Your complete primer on knowing the  danger signs of your sports radio guy doing schmucky things … and knowing when it is probably best for your piece of mind to turn the station.

K-State football: Having to adjust expectations

If you were looking for some kind of restorative “make me feel better” performance from the Kansas State Wildcats against Baylor, how do you feel after?

Wins are good, obviously, but I don’t know that I feel that much better — not after a second-half performance delivered with the intensity of a stale Werther’s Original.

There were too many dropped passes by wide receivers again.* And, I admit I was surprised at how key defensive back Cre Moore apparently is to the defense. His absence was noticeable after he was ejected for targeting — especially on the long, gashing pass plays through the middle of the Wildcats defense.

*Holy self-confidence issues, Batman. There have been many past individual receiving talents much better than anyone on this roster, but this group as a whole was supposed to be, perhaps, one of the best ever assembled. Maybe the group still can be by season’s end, but Byron Pringle and crew have to figure out how to, simply, catch the damn ball.

Overall, this team is 3-1, 1-0, which beats anything less. Still, however, I’m struggling with the first four games’ evidence, dropped passes included, and reconciling that it is the base of my growing dread that I badly, optimistically misjudged what the 2017 Wildcats will accomplish.

If anything else, I don’t want to be wrong because, well, being wrong sucks. But, in this case, it also means a letdown. That’s not fun either. I want to believe this team will finish 10-2 and make it to the Big 12 Championship. I want to believe that making such a run — especially now — would mean an outside shot at a national semifinal.

Here’s the evidence I think I’m seeing that will keep that from happening.

Offensive plays. On the surface, this seems like an easy potshot at Dana Dimel, but it isn’t…not totally anyways. He’s trying, or appears to be. He continues to call passes despite receivers’ catching problems. He has dialed down the obvious “give it to Winston inside the 20” stuff from last year. But, there have been head-scratching moments when Dimel seems to go right despite the left working just fine (throwing against Vanderbilt in the second half when the run was effective).

And there is the curious lack of regular use of Justin Silmon. Alex Barnes is a stud, but Silmon has looked pretty darn good in his own right when he gets touches. There should be plenty of room for both of them, especially in an offense that values the run as much as K-State’s does.

Jesse Ertz has to forget about tomorrow. The heart of Bill Snyder’s offense drums to the beat of the quarterback’s bravado. Ertz is a capable leader, he understands the offense, and he’s better every game in terms of reading his running lanes. But, reading open lanes and fully exploiting them are different things. In fact, the past two games it seems when Ertz runs, he’s anxious to get on the ground once he gets into the open. Down the road, when one cut or one broken tackle could mean a first down or score? Hitting the ground after gaining eight yards won’t cut it – not for a team trying to fight its way into a Championship picture.

(By the way, did you happen to notice the difference in spark level with Alex Delton behind center at the end of the Baylor game? If you say no, you’re either lying or didn’t see it.)

The Do-it-all-defense isn’t all that deepK-State leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense, but the way it was gashed in the middle by Baylor for big plays after Moore left makes me wonder if the secondary can withstand any missing pieces over the next eight weeks. It will probably show well against Texas. After that, TCU and especially Oklahoma are going to be a challenge.

That said, is it impossible for all starters to be available all year? Of course not. But, it’s a precarious spot.

The Commodores clue. I’m not usually a fan of basing one team’s potential on how an opponent fares, but I think there’s some value in it here. Vanderbilt is in that same Top 25’ish soup K-State is in. So, considering how evenly the two teams played each other, I’ve paid attention to Vanderbilt as it took on other ranked foes. In watching No. 1 Alabama destroy the Commodores, 59-0, and No. 21 Florida following up with a 38-24 win, it left me really unimpressed with K-State’s ability to score just seven points against Vandy.

If I believe K-State is Big 12 Championship quality after those results, then it means Vanderbilt is good enough to win the Big 12. I don’t believe that. So, the other side is K-State isn’t good enough to win the Big 12. That, unfortunately, feels more correct.

Teamrankings.com currently projects K-State to finish 7-5. I don’t think it’s that dire, but I’m thinking I should prepare myself for eight or nine wins as the ceiling for this team, as opposed to the 10 or 11 I thought was on the table at the beginning of the season.