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.

K-State football: We have a duty to keep focus on the field

If you’ve been to Bill Snyder Family Stadium during pregame in the past nearly three decades, you’ve heard it (minus the Ron Prince years, of course) …

Right now! Hey! It’s your tomorrow!”

More than at any other time, this Kansas State Wildcats football season feels that way.

An experienced, talented quarterback, a stout defense, overall depth, good special teams, and a stack of skill position players with speed coming out of their wherever. All of that was rewarded with a preseason Top 20 ranking (which has proven to be a terrific place to start for teams willing to play their way into the national picture by season’s end).

And Bill Snyder is leading it all after waging a war on his cancer during the offseason.

I see this, and I’m inspired and appreciative.

On Saturday, I caught myself watching a game* that doesn’t matter in any other year with a different sense of enjoyment. Big plays and a high score helped, I’m sure, but I noticed me appreciating how much of a treat it is to watch a Kansas State team coached by Bill Snyder.

*ESPN3 … what an overwhelming failure. It wasn’t first time I’ve watched a game via the platform, and it won’t be the last because sometimes it is the only option. But, as I tweeted Saturday, massive issues like these did nothing to ease my distrust in streamable broadcasting. I love the long-term upside, but while there also are broadcast issues at times with traditional channels, that route is far more reliable at this point.

But, while watching the Wildcats roll, I also saw K-State’s transcendent, windbreaker-wearing icon, a legend built out of limestone, looking as if a stiff Kansas wind gust could knock him over.

I saw him, and I worry. I don’t want to worry, but I do. I say this as the person who wondered why the national media couldn’t just let Bill Snyder be Bill back in April. I worry because we’re now nearing five months since that column, and Snyder looks almost exactly like he did at that point. And, I don’t know why. And, I don’t know if anyone else knows why. And, it’s unsettling even if I don’t want it to be. And, the season is now underway. And, and, and …

*Breathe* …

His postgame analysis was sharp. So, too, was his resolve to correct his team’s mistakes before next week. All of it felt like football Saturdays in Manhattan are supposed to feel.

That normalcy is a credit to Snyder (and everyone on his staff stepping up where needed) in keeping focus on the field. That effort is why they deserve for us to do the same for now. (Yes, I know how that sounds considering I’ve just written a column about it.)

Regardless, I will. I will keep my mind on the team. I’ll keep watching as it battles for wins, for a Big 12 championship, and for its coach.

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K-State sports coverage: just hoping for the best

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been for the Kansas State Wildcats media scene – enough to make me wonder whatever happened to that whole “the media shouldn’t be the story” thing … except, now there are a few things that legitimately deserve attention.

– In Kansas City, Kansas State athletics had to find a new home for this season and beyond after being unceremoniously dumped by Union Broadcasting and 810 WHB.

– So, over to 610 KCSP, where new ads boast you’ll be able to hear games on a much clearer signal.

– That, of course, only applies when 610 actually broadcasts games on that frequency instead of stuffing K-State somewhere else in the Entercom closet during Royals games.

– KSU broadcasts aside, it will be interesting to hear the difference in tone toward K-State by hosts who have, for years, been unabashed in their bias for KU.

– I really don’t think it will be a problem to be honest. Not after hearing Fescoe in the Morning come to the mock outraged defense of Royals pitcher Danny Duffy.

– Bob Fescoe chastised a media person’s joke attempt about Duffy’s DUI because, in part, a media person should be trying to “curry favor” to the player and to an organization.

– By the way, officially, to curry favor is to attempt to gain or advance through fawning and flattery.

– Hey, if you’re K-State, you’ve got to like a station that lives to please its masters.

– Meanwhile, the purple internets were buzzing late this week as Gopowercat.com – a Rivals.com member site since its inception – announced, as it was leaving, that it would become part of the 247/CBS family.

– A lot of people who paid for an annual subscription to GPC/Rivals, well, they’re out that cash, according to more than a few posters. A lot of those same folks were also on the short end of their investment when publisher Tim Fitzgerald announced his company was discontinuing its printed magazine earlier this year and refunds weren’t given there, either.

– Rivals wasted no time in finding a K-State replacement for GPC – hiring former Kansas City Star/Wichita Eagle K-State reporter Jeff Martin to run the purple ship.

– It sets up for an interesting competition this year in the press box, which means there’s at least something fun to watch there this week while the Wildcats dominate Week 1 on the field.

Jordan Willis gets drafted by the Bengals … dang it

Thoughts from the past week or so outside of remembering what god-awful Kansas City Royals baseball feels like …

– Jordan Willis was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft on Friday, and the Kansas State Wildcats extended their streak to 24 straight years of having a player selected.

– That’s the good news.

– Third in K-State history with 26 sacks, Willis was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.

– That part … well …

– You hope for the best, but there are some teams out there that just make you cringe when you hear them draft guys you like.

– In any case, here’s to the Kansas City, Missouri, native surviving Cincy and having a productive pro career.

– This year’s K-State spring game had a different feel to it, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad.

– Pregame hype, game day news, and postgame discussion all seemed to be left wanting for more.

– It’s a chicken/egg thing, I suppose. Did most media not cover it the same because outlets felt like fans don’t prioritize it like they did in the past (attendance)? Or, did most media limit their coverage because they internally don’t feel it is worth the effort, and the lack of coverage led to limited talking points and discussion for fans?

– Regardless, did anyone notice the same thing? If you did, do you care?

– Personally, though I felt it was lacking some, I’ve never felt the spring game mattered much unless you were Nebraska or Oklahoma, so it doesn’t bother me one way or the other.

– Jesse Ertz is going to be the K-State starting quarterback, and for good reason.

– Neither Skylar Thompson nor Alex Delton showed enough for me to think it would benefit K-State to have them in the first-string conversation at this point.

– And, that’s okay.

– I’m pretty okay with the Kansas City Chiefs taking Pat Mahomes in the manner they did.

– It’s hard to get mad at a team’s decision to use extra picks to move up and get the guy it really wants. As for analysis …

– I’ll go the Bill Snyder route and have you check back in with me in three years or so. I mean, it’s such a crapshoot how someone will respond to being asked to be the future face of a franchise. Who knows?

– So … the Royals — ah, I held out on this as long as I could in this column.

– Lineups with Mike Moustakas leading off. Young guys getting goat-ed and sent down because the supposed stars aren’t producing (Raul Mondesi). No sense of roles in the bullpen. Pointing at things like playing at home versus on the road as if that is the real issue (Eric Hosmer).

– It’s all seems so anti-Royals, at least based from the past three seasons.

– It reeks of panic.

– It makes me wonder if Royals management badly misjudged who was responsible for the winning attitude and culture in the clubhouse.

– Let’s end on a winning note.

– Kansas State Women’s Basketball Coach Jeff Mittie was named 2017 Coach of the Year by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

– Kansas State concluded the 2016-17 season with 23 wins, the most since the 2008-09 season, and Mittie became the first KSU WBB coach to make the NCAA Tournament in two of their first three seasons.

 

K-State’s Gene Taylor needs to lead Aggieville out of Averageville

His predecessor raised buildings and got a little lucky in winning while doing so, but new K-State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor needs to figure out how to get KSU to consistently and legitimately compete.

New Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor (right) is welcomed by K-State President Richard Myers.

It was only four years ago that Kansas State University planted its flag atop the Big 12 mountain. “Titletown USA is right here in Manhattan, Kansas, isn’t it?” John Currie rhetorically asked during a celebration in March 2013.

Since then, however, K-State has had more new athletic directors than Big 12 championships in football, men’s basketball, and baseball – the three sports that formed the foundation of Currie’s statement. The three winning percentages in that time: .615 (football); .549 (men’s basketball); .473 (baseball).

Sort of quietly — outside of the constant roar surrounding Bruce Weber anyways — Aggieville has rebranded from Titletown to Averageville.

Despite that, the football machine, for now, is untouchable of course and should be until Bill Snyder is no longer the head coach. That said, Taylor was asked on a Kansas City-area sports radio show whether Snyder worked for him, or he worked for Snyder. To paraphrase, Taylor’s response was that the two would work “together.”

What will be interesting to watch unfold is what “together” means for both parties. With Currie, Snyder publicly was as rigid as he was civil — whether in his long-standing disdain for made-for-TV schedules (as Currie pushed for greater fan experiences) or in his weird public campaign for Sean Snyder to become the next K-State head coach.*

*I’ve not felt this was a 100-percent honest campaign from Snyder – not when coaches like Jim Leavitt randomly have contract clauses paving for an easy return to K-State. I mean, life is sometimes stranger than fiction but to think a calculated someone like Leavitt put a clause like that in just because he has feelings for KSU? You can buy it and I won’t blame you, but I’m going to pass.

And while this season appears to have some national/Top 25 potential, it doesn’t mask the fact that K-State has appeared in the national rankings in only one of the past four seasons. Taylor has some time to work together with Snyder, make sure he listens to the legend, and get his plan in place. Nowhere in there should it be about maintaining the status quo because the past several years haven’t actually been all that amazing.

Meanwhile, over in Bramlage Coliseum, Taylor has a much more immediate concern. In the same sports radio interview, Taylor avoided committing for or against an extension for Bruce Weber. He’s wise in doing so. While fans and some sites are hot on firing Weber, Taylor appeared to show he will not be pressured into quick decisions without fully surveying the landscape. That landscape includes K-State President Richard Myers, who alluded to an extension with Weber in his opening comments welcoming Taylor.

Barring an unforeseen miracle, KSU will not win a Big 12 Championship in the next two years or longer, and every year that streak extends will be an increasingly uncomfortable feeling not just for whomever the coach is, but their boss as well. K-State fans have made it clear they do not appreciate basketball mediocrity. There’s no reason to believe that attitude will change, and Taylor needs to answer that call if he wants to successfully cultivate and maintain a good relationship with that sector of the fanbase.

And finally, in the shadows is the K-State baseball program, which has taken perhaps the biggest fall among the three programs. Since winning the Big 12 in 2013, Brad Hill’s program has meandered along a downhill path; its best conference winning percentage the past four seasons is .417 (2015). Its overall record is 99-110 in that time.

This year, an early-season victory against Top 25 South Carolina gave great reason for hope, but not much came of it before the Bat Cats took two out of three against No. 25 West Virginia this past weekend.

Hill did wonders in rebuilding what Mike Clark handed him, but history has shown a rebuild, a peak, and a regression. It is on Taylor, probably sooner than later, to determine if Hill is the one to rebuild things a second time.

The great news is Taylor can focus on these things and be the people person he’s been billed as. And, he can do so with an amenities ace in his sleeve. Like never before, K-State has the facilities to compete … right now. Pay attention to them throughout the “Day in the Life” video. K-State has never looked better.

It all means it boils down to one thing for Taylor: He doesn’t have many, if any, excuses at this point. He has new, shiny walls. He needs to develop his department’s culture so that it brings new banners to hang on them.