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: 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.

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.

 

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.