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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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.

(Think what you just read should be shared? I’d love for you to share with other K-Staters! Please help spread the word on Facebook and Twitter!) 

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.

 

Royals have concerns; K-State, KU football finding different ways to be exciting in 2017

I’ve written this before, but for those who may be new …

I grew up in Northeast Kansas and read the Topeka Capital-Journal sports page as my daily devotional. It was the front page of that section where I was introduced to Pete Goering. Years before I would come to recognize his influence in my future work, Pete taught me how long-lasting brevity’s impact can be. 

Personally, I regret not making more of an opportunity to seek out his in-person guidance when I worked at the TCJ. I let intimidation get the best of me. But, in the years since, I’ve always felt my way to honor Pete was by penning occasional Musings columns in the style I grew to love so much from him.  -ck

Of course, former Royals prospect and current San Diego Padres slugger Wil Myers hits for the cycle on the same day the Kansas City Royals have one of their worst offensive days so far in 2017. 

– I don’t think any Royals fan would trade the success that followed Myers getting traded, but still … of course he did.

– It’s hard to think the Royals starting rotation will continue on its 2.88 ERA clip. Just like it’s hard to think the offense will continue its 27th-ranked .610 OPS effort.

– But, if the pitching comes back while the hitting goes up, where does that leave a team already inducing more doubt than inspiration while starting 2-4?

– Especially if the bullpen doesn’t get things figured out, like, soon?

– My feeling is it puts us back with those Royals teams from the early 2000s.

– In other words, exciting teams that lost more than they won.

– It’s exciting to wonder what Kansas State football will look like in 2017.

– A healthy Jesse Ertz at quarterback running, and throwing to talented receivers, and running …

– Along with a defense that will at least be solid and stands the chance of being really good …

– Along with experienced, talented special teams units …

– All led by a legendary coach in Bill Snyder who, thanks to season-long narratives, won’t ever have to remind his team he beat cancer during the offseason.

– Now, go back and read those last few thoughts with the Wabash Cannonball playing in your mind.

– Pretty exciting, no?

– There is some building excitement in Lawrence, too.

– David Beaty and his Kansas Jayhawks football staff are making some waves by securing early commitments from talent-rich Louisiana.

– For a program willing to find hope and momentum in any form, a word of caution to fans on pinning hopes on football recruiting.

– Yes, KU’s 2018 class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation.

– That’s pretty sweet, but it is a long way and a lot of games to signing day.

– The question will be whether KU fans and admins will be able to stomach another year or two of three wins or less per season before that talent arrives and begins the development process (assuming the class stays intact).

– Even if KU wins 4 games per year the next two, Beaty’s record would be 10-38 and no bowl appearances in four seasons.

– Would something like that be good enough to keep waiting and hoping?

Why can’t the national media just let K-State’s Bill Snyder be Bill Snyder?

Earlier this week, CBSSports.com decided to check in on Bill Snyder.

The story was warranted as the Kansas State Wildcats football coach was back in front of the media for the first time since it was announced this past winter that the 77-year-old coach was undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

However, veteran reporter Dennis Dodd took a bizarre angle on the story.

With some random praise attempts sprinkled throughout, Dodd’s piece mostly had the voice of someone who pities a coach too old to understand the weight of his situation and in need of someone to gently remind him he needs to eat his beets before a recliner nap; let alone prepare for a college football season.

‘The truth is, most folks can now see an end to Snyder’s career. It has been glorious and great and long-lasting, but it is coming to a close soon. Isn’t it?” the piece said. “The 2017 Wildcats have a returning quarterback (Jesse Ertz), should be picked no lower than third in the Big 12 and are a borderline top-25 team.

“The question is, can Snyder see the end? On one hand, he is eight years away from Joe Paterno’s age (85) when the Penn State coach was forced to retire in 2011. On the other, what he is going through is cancer.”

First, the Paterno reference/comparison is gross. Both coaches are/were old, and that’s where the comparison ends. Period. Flippantly painting Paterno’s Penn State situation as a “forced to retire” example is awful enough on its own. But to then use it as some sort of illustration of how Snyder perhaps doesn’t know when it is time to step away because he’s coaching after cancer treatment? Pepsi’s recent diversity ad with Kylie Jenner was closer to hitting the intended mark. (Spoiler: It also badly missed.)

And second, why is it that Dodd this time, or *insert national media person* now or ever, can’t or won’t simply allow Bill Snyder to just be Bill Snyder? And let that be enough?*

*Thinking too hard about or reading too much into Snyder’s approach and demeanor has always plagued those in the media who have tried to unlock the “magic whatever” Snyder used to build his program. They think it has to be magic because the straightforward, hard-work, no-frills, no-thrills, saw-wood, 16-goals, anti-Jim Harbaugh approach is just too damn boring to be as effective as it has proven to be.

Also as evidence of things having changed drastically for Snyder, Dodd threw in the coach’s having a bottle of water instead of coffee. I mean, if there’s a sign a coach is headed straight into the ground, as Dodd seemed eager to portray, drinking water surely signals the end, doesn’t it? (I guess when you’re trying very hard to frame your point that a 77-year-old cancer survivor might be thinking retirement sooner than later as edgy and groundbreaking, you’ll use whatever you can get.)

Sigh …

Isn’t it time, finally, that Bill Snyder just be left to do what he does? Let him tackle the rest of his cancer recovery like he has done his coaching tenure. Let him be unyielding in his approach; tough in his execution; and honest in his brief statements about things. Let him then again pass those traits to his team and see what happens.

But most of all, stop questioning Snyder’s ability to fight, whether in his recovery or in his ability to lead the K-State program.

Anyone who knows him or his teams knows there is no question about that at all.

Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill now praiseworthy?

Man, does it feel like K-State let one get away last Saturday. The reasons for the team standing 2-2 instead of 3-1 are obvious.

– The old offensive coordinator in Bill Snyder has to be dying with the product his Wildcats are putting on the field.

– Penalties are up, indecision is common, and time of possession is the worst it has been since Ron Prince’s final season. And none of that speaks to Jesse Ertz’s 48.2% completion percentage after going 10-of-30 against West Virginia.

– Some extra perspective salt in the wound: Miami (OH) is 0-5, and its offense ranks nine spots higher than K-State’s. The Kansas Jayhawks are eight spots better.

– It’s a shame, too, because the Wildcats’ superb defense (No. 4 in FBS) and top-level special teams units collectively belong on a team ranked in the Top 10.

– Is it a shame many seemed to have moved on and decided Kansas City Chiefs rookie Tyreek Hill is worthy of praise?

– Even on television, you can hear an excited buzz every time Hill touches the ball, and I don’t think the buzz is remnant mock outrage over his getting drafted following his domestic violence charge.

– Not surprised, but I also am not sure how these things are supposed to work in today’s age. So, someone help me understand.

– I’ve given up trying to understand what the Big 12 wants regarding expansion.

– I once believed Dan Beebe was the biggest factor in the Big 12’s inability to think progressively.

– Watching the Conference during this latest round of expansion discussions made it crystal clear to me, however, that no commissioner could fix the unpredictable dysfunction regularly injected into things by the school presidents.

– The Sooner someone reminds the group that this is a “sum greater than the parts” deal, the better.

– Trying to keep all the parts together in 2017 worries me when it comes to the Kansas City Royals.

– Maybe everybody comes back healthy and on fire.

– Or, maybe they all come back another year older and even less capable of repeating 2014 and 2015.

– Or, maybe they all come back, are capable, and have to watch Joakim Soria pitch.

 

Crowdsourcing: What K-State fans hope to see against Stanford

The Kansas State Wildcats open the 2016 season on the road against AP No. 8 Stanford on Friday. With good experience (and talent) returning defensively but questions at quarterback and on a new-look offensive line, it’s hard to say, exactly, what the expectation is regarding performance.*Coach_Bill_Snyder

*Unless you are a disciple of K-State’s 16 Goals For Success, of course, and choose to live by No. 13: “Expect to win.” For the sake of the rest of this piece, though, let’s leave that perfectly reasonable thought to the side for now.

K-State head coach Bill Snyder shared his thoughts with the media on Tuesday.

“Stanford is a great challenge, and our players are excited about playing the game, that’s a positive thing,” Snyder said.

As for his made-over young o-line?

“They will probably see the brunt of Stanford’s defense and movements and all that goes along with it,” Snyder said. “They’re drilling diligently on that right now and they’ve went through spring practice well. They’ve earned the right to be there.

“They don’t have the experience that you’d like, but they’ve had a significant amount of practice experience. So we’re doing the kind of work that we need to be doing and the practice with the environment and how we organize it. I think there will be some carry over for them into the ballgame.”

Snyder also laid out his thoughts on Stanford’s Heisman hopeful, running back Christian McCaffrey.

“I have not met him personally, but I like the way he conducts himself. I would say the hidden ingredient is his leadership on that team in a very humble fashion,” Snyder said. “I just like that nature of his character.

“Aside from that, on the football field, it’s just being able to identify where he is and why he’s there becomes important. He can line up in a lot of different positions and not get baited out of position because of where his linemen are.

“[Our players] have to understand what he can, but also equally important, what he can’t do from certain positions. He can be a deceptive runner, he can be a powerful runner, and obviously he’s got a good deal of speed. We have to be great on our cover units – our punt units and kickoff units – because he offers those things on the return units as he does in their offense.”

Outside of the team, as anyone would in today’s day and age, I asked Twitter what it expects.

“Competitive, with McCaffrey being the X-factor. K-State matches up well otherwise.” – @bclaymoore

“Think KSU defense can keep it close just not sure about how efficient KSU’s offense will be, too many unknowns.” – @jswabash

“Expect a competitive game but not a W.” – @bmalcolm88

“I like our team but I think we’ll struggle to stay in the game. Close at half but we fall 31-13.” – @MultiTodd

“Snyder Goal #13” – @MichaelKBerges

“To be competent and keep things close, IMO.” – @roh_tweets

“Get pressure with DL, keep McCaffrey contained and make someone else beat us, >55% completion rate, and competent OL play.” – @Tye_KC

And, finally, my current favorite …

“K-State 98, Stanford 2” – @Schmidtburgh