2015 CFB Preview – Kansas State


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It’s as if Bill Snyder didn’t do enough in his legendary career to prove just how tremendous a head coach he is.

By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

What did Snyder do? He and his coaching staff tweaked things to adapt to the personnel.

And it almost worked.

If all is right with the Kansas State world, the offense has the ball for five days, the defense is forcing turnovers, the special teams dominate, and it’s all about control, control, control. Don’t make mistakes, win the time of possession battle, and grind opponents into submission.

The problem with that was in 2013, when the running game sort of worked, but the offense wasn’t able to take hold of games against most of the big boys. When the defense had problems, the offense couldn’t keep up – the Wildcats lost five games on the year, going 1-5 when allowing 31 points or more.

Last season, with a good passer in Jake Waters and a dangerous receiving corps, the coaching staff changed up the style a bit and the offense started bombing away – successfully. The result?

Kansas State went 0-3 when the defense gave up 31 points or more.

However, the Wildcats showed more firepower, showed more pop, and while they lost four games, they were to Auburn – which would’ve been a win with better kicking – TCU, Baylor, and then in the bowl game against a UCLA team that decided to finally start playing.

More than that, they had the puck on their stick with a chance to win a share of the Big 12 title on the final regular season weekend. They were right in the thick of things, and it had everything to do with the improved passing attack to go along with all the other key things that make Kansas State, Kansas State.

This year, as always, there’s a ton of turnover, a ton of coaching to do, and a ton of new pieces needing to fit into various spaces. However, the defense has the strength and the talent to be even better – after finishing third in the Big 12 in total defense – with a pass rush and an active front seven that has the potential to dominate.

Will the offense be more Josh Freeman or Ell Roberson? The quarterback situation is the biggest question mark, along with a Tyler Lockett-less receiving corps, meaning there should be a wee step back overall in an improved league with so much firepower returning, but again, it’s Bill Snyder and it’s Kansas State. They’ll figure it out.

Don’t expect miracles. Don’t look for a Big 12 championship season, and don’t look for a spot in the second go-round of the College Football Playoff.

But look for Kansas State to be right in the mix for all of those things right up until the very end.

What You Need To Know About The Offense: What’s the offense going to be this year? Last season it was outstanding at getting the passing game going cranking up 287 yards per game, but with Jake Waters gone, who will the quarterback be throughout the season? Where are the receiving playmakers to make up for the loss of Tyler Lockett? Even with the loss of C B.J. Finney, the line should be a strength, but the skill stars have to rise up. The ground attack has to be far more effective, and again, the passing game components have to come together in a hurry.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It’s a no-name defense that might turn out to be the best in the Big 12. The secondary is the star with SS Dante Barnett and CB Danzel McDaniel two terrific tacklers who should earn all-star honors. With Elijah Lee looking like a keeper on the outside, the linebacking corps should be very active and very productive. The pass rush will come from several spots with Ryan Mueller gone, but Jordan Willis outside and Travis Britz inside form a nice tandem to work around.

What to watch for on offense: The 2014 Wildcats threw for 3,736 yards and 23 touchdowns – over 1,000 yards more than the 2012 Wildcats and 800 more than the 2013 version. The 2012 K-State team ran for 2,522 yards and 42 touchdowns – almost 800 more yards and 12 scores more than last year’s offense. So what’s the style? What’s the move? Are the Wildcats going to try to go TCU/Baylor and start speeding things up? C’mon – it’s Kansas State. The offensive style is totally dependent on the starting quarterback, and with five different options with different styles, and without the same receiving corps of last year, it’ll be a work in progress. However, as always, the offense will control the clock, and it should – in some way – have one of the Big 12’s most effective offenses.

What to watch for on defense: How much more will the linebackers be able to do? The pass rush wasn’t among the Big 12’s best last season, but it was more than fine with Ryan Mueller leading the way. He’s gone, but Jordan Willis is a good end to work around and there’s talent across the front four to rely on. The secondary should be terrific with SS Dante Barnett and CB Danzel McDaniel back, so now it’s about the linebackers. Leading tackler Jonathan Truman is gone, and Dakorey Johnson is done, but Elijah Lee rose up as a freshman and turned into a terror at times, while Will Davis showed he’s ready to do more. It’s going to be a sound D, but Lee and company will make it sensational at times.

The team will be far better if … the running game is better. Kansas State went 8-0 last year when rushing for 130 yards or more and have won its last 14 when hitting the mark. Passing is fun, and Kansas State did it as well and as efficiently as anyone in America last season, but on a regular basis, the team really rocks when the ground attack is doing the heavy lifting. Ineffective last season, the Wildcats averaged just 3.67 yards per carry after averaging 4.5 per pop in 2013. Charles Jones was okay, rushing for a team-leading 540 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he didn’t take games over. Dalvin Warmack was supposed to be one of the key stars last year, and he had his moments. Now he, Jones and Jarvis Leverett have to add more to the mix.

The schedule: There’s no excuse for Kansas State to not have an amazing season. The road games are at UTSA, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas. That’s not that bad.
– Louisiana Tech will be good enough to win the American Athletic, but with the game at home, Kansas State should go 3-0 to start the season without a problem. The tune-up time will be great before getting a week off.
– Kansas State catches the Big 12 break by only playing four road games in conference and gets Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma in Manhattan.
– The week off before Baylor should be a big plus. Getting the Halloween off-week is perfect before the finishing kick.
– WATCH OUT FOR … the road trip to UTSA. The Roadrunners aren’t going to be all that great, and they need a lot of work, but they gave Arizona a nightmare of a time last year and could catch the Wildcats napping.

Best offensive player: Junior FB Glenn Gronkowski. And that’s a little bit of the concern. None of the quarterback options stepped up this offseason, the pop and explosion aren’t quite there at receiver, and the running backs have yet to show anything truly special. Gronkowski is an All-Big 12 fullback – partly because the world doesn’t use fullbacks anymore – who’s not a tight end like his brother, Rob, but can do a variety of things like an H-back. However, if he’s the best offensive player by the end of the season, there’s a problem.

Best defensive player: Senior SS Dante Barnett. The All-Big 12 hitter can deliver a pop and serve as another linebacker at times, even if he’s built more like a corner. Combining with fellow all-star Danzel McDaniel at corner, and Morgan Burns on the other side, the secondary could be the team’s biggest strength in a league that puts a premium on defenses that can hold up against dangerous passing attacks. Barnett is the leader and star of the group.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Joe Hubener. Quarterback is a big, big problem considering the receiving corps isn’t a rock quite yet and the running backs are sketchy. Kansas State will find a quarterback to bring the production, but will it go with an unproven runner like freshman Alex Delton? Could Jesse Ertz be more consistent and make a move? Hubener can run a little bit and he has a nice arm, but he was way, way too shaky this spring. He has the experience, and the coaching staff will trust him, but there might be more interesting options – Delton front and center – to take a chance on.

The season will be a success if … the Wildcats win ten games. Kansas State is probably around the third or fourth-best team in the Big 12 – at absolute best – but the schedule is too nice and too breezy not to shoot for double-digit wins. Forget the non-conference slate – that’s a 3-0 start – but with TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor all coming to the Family, and with a not bad finishing kick, nine wins in the regular season are possible, and make it ten with a bowl victory.

Key game: Oct. 3 at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys should be much, much better and more dangerous this season. Kansas State won last year, but it lost the last four times it went to Stillwater going back to 1999. With TCU and Oklahoma up next, being 0-1 in conference play could put the pressure on to not screw up at home. Beat OSU, and everything sets up nicely.

2014 Fun Stats:
– Fourth Down Conversions: Kansas State 11-of-16 (69%) – Opponents 6-of-14 (43%)
– Time of Possession: Kansas State 32:44 – Opponents 27:16
– Penalties: Opponents 87 for 783 yards – Kansas State 57 for 511

Players You Need To Know

1. 1. SS Dante Barnett, Sr.

He’s only 6-1 and 186 pounds and doesn’t look like a thumper of a strong safety, but he’s a good, strong hitter who brings the pop. The Second Team All-Big 12 performer is able to operate at times like a free-lancing sheriff in the secondary, and other times he steps up and helps the cause against the power running teams. Even at his size he holds up well with 75 tackles two years ago and 77 last season, highlighted by an 11-stop performance against Oklahoma. Throw in the three interceptions and eight broken up passes, and his leadership off the field, and he can do a little bit of everything.

2. 2. CB Danzel McDaniel, Sr.
The JUCO transfer stepped in right away and turned in an all-star season on the outside. The 6-1, 205-pound veteran has excellent size, hits like a safety, and did a strong job in a variety of ways, coming up with a key pick-six against Oklahoma, getting into the backfield for a sack and five tackles for loss, and finishing fourth on the team with 59 tackles. While he can move, his game is about getting physical – he’s as good an open-field tackler as any corner in the Big 12. He needs to make a few more big plays when the ball is in the air, but the coaching staff will happily take the run support to make up for it.

3. 3. LB Elijah Lee, Soph.
It takes a lot to see meaningful time as a true freshman on a Bill Snyder team, but Lee made an impact right away and turned into one of the team’s most dangerous pass rushers. He only came up with 19 tackles, but he cranked up 4.5 sacks. Fine, so two of them came in the opener against Stephen F. Austin, but he showed throughout the offseason that he’s ready to take on a bigger role and do even more as a disruptive force on the outside. At 6-3 and 214 pounds he has the size to go along with the athleticism – look out.

4. 4. DE Jordan Willis, Jr.
At 6-5 and 250 pounds he’s a tall end with a great frame and a good first step. While he’s not the type who’ll eat up tackles with a big punch, he’ll get tough with 26 tackles on the year with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He crushed Oklahoma State with two sacks, and came up with a season-high seven tackles against TCU, but he has the ability and upside to be a stat-sheet filler. At least that’s the expectation.

5. 5. FB Glenn Gronkowski, Jr.
He only caught five passes for 99 yards and a score, and he only ran four times for six yards, but he earned All-Big 12 honors as a tough-blocking cog in the Wildcat system. The 6-3, 234-pound brother of superstar NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski has the athleticism and has the skills to do more for the attack, but he’s a blocker.

6. 6. OG Boston Stiverson, Sr.
One of the team’s steadier blockers over the last few seasons, Stiverson is a tough 6-4, 312-pound interior blocker who’s turned into a mainstay on the left side. A high school defensive star as well as a blocker for the O line, he has grown into the role after starting every game last season, but now he has to be more of a blaster. He has to be the reason the running game starts to improve.

7. PK Matthew McCrane, Soph.
Kansas State would’ve beaten Auburn if McCrane was kicking – Jack Cantele missed key field goal chances in the loss. McCrane took over after the Tiger debacle and was brilliant, hitting 18-of-19 chances including a 52-yarder against Kansas and a 53-yard bomb against Oklahoma State. In all, he nailed all six of his shots from beyond 40 yards on the way to an all-star season. He’ll get plenty of chances this year in an offense that’ll need to take advantage of every scoring shot.

8. OT Cody Whitehair, Sr.
Able to play tackle or guard, Whitehair can produce no matter where he’s needed, but after starting every game early in his career at left guard he turned into a solid offensive tackle earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors. The 6-4, 309-pound veteran is one of the team’s most physical players, almost being moved over to defensive tackle when he arrived on campus. With good quickness, he gets out and can spring the big play, but he’s at his best when he’s mauling.

9. RB Charles Jones, Jr.
He’s a better prospect with bigger upside than he showed last season. He’s not going to bring too much power at 5-10 and 197 pounds, but he’s great around the goal line and quick in the open field. Smart, he earned Academic All-Big 12 honors, and he showed early on what he could do when he got within range of the end zone with eight touchdowns in the first four games. However, he wasn’t a workhorse – never getting more than 13 carries all year – and he never came up with more than the 76 yards he got against Iowa State. He’ll be pushed hard by Dalvin Warmack and Jarvis Leverett, but he’s going to be the feature option.

10. DT Travis Britz, Sr.
At 6-4 and 293 pounds he’s not huge, but he’ll hold his own. The active interior presence on the defensive front earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors, and now he’s one of the key leaders of the line. His claim to fame is as a kick blocker, coming up with five over the course of his career, but he’s terrific for the defensive front four, too, coming up with 27 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss before getting knocked out late in the year with an ankle injury.


Head Coach: Bill Snyder
24th year: 187-94-1
Schedule
Sept. 5 South Dakota
Sept. 12 at UTSA
Sept. 19 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 26 OPEN DATE
Oct. 3 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 10 TCU
Oct. 17 Oklahoma
Oct. 24 at Texas
Oct. 31 OPEN DATE
Nov. 5 Baylor
Nov. 14 at Texas Tech
Nov. 21 Iowa State
Nov. 28 at Kansas
Dec. 5 West Virginia
Ten Best Kansas State Players
1. SS Dante Barnett, Sr.
2. CB Danzel McDaniel, Sr.
3. LB Elijah Lee, Soph.
4. DE Jordan Willis, Jr.
5. FB Glenn Gronkowski, Jr.
6. OG Boston Stiverson, Sr.
7. PK Matthew McCrane, Soph.
8. OT Cody Whitehair, Sr.
9. RB Charles Jones, Jr.
10. DT Travis Britz, Sr.