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.

 

Kansas State names Gene Taylor as new Director of Athletics

A sect of Kansas State fans have toyed with the thought for years that one of their next hires could/should/would come out of the North Dakota State University pipeline.

Instead of Craig Bohl coming to coach football, however, K-State found its next director of athletics as it announced Friday afternoon that Gene Taylor, who will leave the University of Iowa as Deputy Athletics Director, will assume the position.

Taylor joined the Iowa athletic department after 13 years at North Dakota St., where he helped guide the program through a jump from Division II to Division I.

“Throughout the process, Gene’s experience as an athletics director and his national reputation as a respected leader and someone who has built and maintained tremendous relationships with his staff, coaches, student-athletes and donors stood out in what was an extremely talented pool of candidates,” K-State President Richard Myers said.

While Taylor’s name wasn’t at the front of any speculative lists – at least not those floated or discussed publicly – the hire feels grounded in that it was well-researched, thought out, and executed with a person who appears capable and willing to understand Wildcats culture, both from an administration and fan perspective.

Taylor is someone familiar with running an athletic department built with football as its anchor revenue driver, and he has a resume that seems to indicate he knows how to convince donors to write checks. The NDSU athletics budget tripled from $5 million in Taylor’s first year to $15 million, while the scholarship endowment grew to $11.2 million, and Team Makers booster club support tripled from $750,000 to $2.8 million, all according to the K-State press release issued Friday.

Taylor’s K-State predecessor knew how to raise money as well. The question will be whether the new AD knows how to manage relationships with his coaches and supervise them much better than John Currie did. And, of course, how he’ll handle the current unrest a sizable portion of fans has with men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber.

“Gene Taylor is one of the most respected athletic administrators in the country,” said Gary Barta, University of Iowa Director of Athletics. “He has such a great combination of passion, experience, and the ability to lead by bringing people together toward a common goal.”

Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz also was quoted as saying K-State made a good choice.

“Kansas State has hired a very talented administrator, and a professional who works well with others on all levels to achieve the desired results,” Ferentz said.

It’s hard to believe Taylor, though qualified, was K-State’s first choice. And in fact, one source said Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt turned down the position and will remain at the department he’s run in Lubbock since 2011.

Still, if Taylor proves to be what his resume indicates, K-State may have a winner on its hands.

K-State will officially introduce Taylor on Monday at 10:30 a.m.

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.

Big 12 Football power rankings: no defense for old men

I love the Big 12 Conference. It’s in my sports fan DNA having grown up in Kansas. So, lovingly, I say this to the Big 12: Y’all terrible.

The current version of this conference is a far cry from the days of the 12th Man, Lynch Mob, Blackshirts and many other fearsome defenses that once helped form the respect the nation had for Big 12 football.

Remember when this was a thing in the Big 12? There may not be 12 great defenders total in the entire conference these days.

Remember when this was a thing in the Big 12? There may not be 12 great defenders total in the entire conference these days.

Granted, Baylor and West Virginia are putting up some decent defensive statistics in 2016, and K-State is solid enough much of the time, but really, there is no strong defense in this league anymore. And, there is no respect – based on the FOX Sports and ESPN talking heads already saying an undefeated Big 12 champion won’t make the College Football Playoff over one-loss or even two-loss teams from better conferences.

That’s incredible. And, as a Big 12 loyalist, it stinks. Anyways, the rankings …

1. Baylor Bears (6-0, 3-0) — Someone has to be at the top, and the Bears will likely be here until they play West Virginia at the end of the regular season. It’s hard to be excited for anything Baylor does, though, because everyone knows the end of good football is on the horizon.

2. West Virginia Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0) — Okay, fine. West Virginia is better than I thought a few weeks ago. I still feel like this team’s record is better than the actual team, but the schedule is set up for this team to make a big run with home games against both Oklahoma and Baylor should it first survive its roadie against OSU.

3. Oklahoma Sooners (5-2, 4-0) — The Sooners once were the class of the league for all the right reasons. They set the standard both in conference and nationally. Now, they’re as much of the league’s defensive problem as anyone. Winning a high-scoring game against Texas Tech isn’t unacceptable, but having to score 66 points in order to do so is.

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) — The Cowboys toyed with KU until the second half when the offense kicked into gear and scored on six of seven drives (not including running out the clock at the end). This team is a great dark horse pick, especially if it can knock off West Virginia this weekend in Stillwater.

5. TCU Horned Frogs (4-3, 2-2) — There really isn’t that much exciting about the Horned Frogs at this point. Both the offensive and defensive units rank in the middle of the majority of Big 12 statistical categories, and those numbers don’t lie. There’s no thrill factor with a team that’s kinda good at most things and not really good at any of them.

6. Kansas State Wildcats (4-3, 2-2) — K-State beat Texas in Manhattan. Again. The defense looked as if it has regained its footing after getting gashed by Texas Tech and Oklahoma, but the passing offense is still the worst in the conference any way you want to examine the body. If you’re a quarterback who can throw first and also run pretty well, send your tape to Manhattan. There is a group of wide receivers who would love to recruit you.

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-4, 1-3) — Points. Offense. Records. Who cares? The head coach is 22-23 in the middle of his fourth year and showing no real momentum. As for standards: the coach in Austin has the same record in 2016 as the coach in Lubbock. One is for sure about to get canned. The other is just Dude Bro’ing along.

8. Texas Longhorns (3-4, 1-3) — Charlie Strong won’t be remembered for long after he’s gone… well, maybe he will, actually. He was the one who came in and decided the country club mentality set by Mack Brown and company needed adjustment. The result as Strong Year 3 winds down: the Longhorns are probably going to finish under .500 for the third straight year. That’s something the Longhorns program hasn’t done since four straight losing years from 1935-38 (9-26 over that stretch).

9. Iowa State Cyclones (1-6, 0-4) — This is the part of the year where teams with little success really start to wear down. It’ll be something to pay attention to: How does this Cyclones bunch finish up the back half of 2016? It’s especially interesting to watch since ISU gets four of its final five games in Ames. That may be enough to keep the players motivated and maybe even snag a win or two.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (1-6, 0-4) — David Beaty flipped the quarterback coin again last week as he played Montell Cozart instead of Ryan Willis, who had become a turnover machine the past few games. Cozart wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great either, throwing two picks in the game and being mostly ineffective in the second half against OSU, even as Ke’aun Kinner turned in 145 rushing yards. Frankly, Beaty just doesn’t have a great option at QB, but such is the life of the worst teams in FBS football.

Big 12 Football power rankings: Bottoms up!

llbrewspage

If we have to celebrate bad football and the worst teams getting better, let’s go bottoms up with a great beer out of Weston Brewing Co. I love this beer!

This season is one long, painful reminder that with no teams in the Top 10 and only three ranked overall, there really isn’t anything great about Big 12 football in 2016. But, the bottom teams have shown signs of life the past few weeks, so there’s that.

Seriously, that’s what we are down to celebrating … in October.

1. Baylor Bears (5-0, 2-0) — Full disclosure, I hate putting Baylor here, but it feels dirty keeping the No. 11-ranked team anywhere besides on top when nobody else is playing that well. I also thought the off-the-field stuff would affect the Bears before now and result in a couple of losses. It hasn’t, however, so good for them.

2. Oklahoma Sooners (3-2, 2-0) — OU threw another log on the Charlie Strong fire, and Dede Westbrook set a school record with 232 receiving yards. After shattering their national aspirations, it looks like the Sooners are finally settling in … four weeks too late.

3. TCU Horned Frogs (4-2, 2-1) — The Frogs were lucky to beat Kansas. It took three missed field goals in the fourth quarter to do it, but Gary Patterson’s guys got the win. That’s the nicest thing I can say about that performance.

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-2, 2-1) — The Cowboys are off this week, so they  can sit back and watch whatever dumpster fire is sure to happen around the Big 12. They can also bask in the fact that they have scored at least 20 points in 22 consecutive games — third in the nation behind Oregon and TCU.

5. West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) — There are only 11 FBS schools undefeated at this point, and the Mountaineers might be the most unimpressive among them. Oh, and their starting kicker, Josh Lambert, left the team this week, so there’s that.

6. Kansas State Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) — K-State’s offense looked pretty darn good last time out and did its part along with the defense and special teams units. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the performance came against Texas Tech, who outlawed defense somewhere about 15 years ago. Way more impressive, the ‘Cats defense held Tech to just 10 points in the second half — including a junk touchdown at the end following a bogus penalty. With the win, KSU became the third Big 12 team to reach 100 league wins since it began in 1996.

7. Texas Longhorns (2-3, 0-2) — Is Charlie gone yet? No? Okay. We’ll check in again next week for a new edition of “How long ’til he gone?”

8. Iowa State Cyclones (1-5, 0-3) — The Cyclones have scored more than 30 points per game in their last three games. All things considered, this team may be bad still, but at least it’s becoming the exciting kind of bad — which seems to work just fine in, say, Lubbock.

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2, 1-1) — Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Offense scores a bunch — Kliff is happy. Defense gives up more and team loses — Kliff daydreams of his next touchdown. Awful.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2) — At some point, this team is going to win a conference game, and I’ll even go as far as saying it could win two this year. KU has a couple of speedy playmakers on offense and special teams that could make a key play, swing momentum and outlast an opponent. TCU lucked out. Someone else won’t be as lucky.