Despite a rally to become bowl eligible, Kansas State’s 2015 season fit into the “disappointment” category. Bill Snyder’s teams don’t do disappointment because they typically overachieve.
Injuries at a key position on both sides of the ball could be an excuse … but Snyder doesn’t do excuses, either. Starting quarterback Jesse Ertz was injured on the Wildcats’ first offensive play and lost for the season. Senior safety Dante Barnett suffered a season-ending injury in the opener. Both losses created dysfunction on both sides of the ball.
“There were a lot of issues,” Snyder said. “The issues were somewhat collective. We gave up too much on defense and couldn’t get enough on offense. I think the biggest one was losing Dante, who is the leader of our defense.”
Barnett returns on a defense that brings back nine starters and should be one of the best in the Big 12. The secondary needs the most improvement: K-State’s pass defense allowed 285 yards per game.
“The mentality is change,” Barnett said.
“The season last year didn’t sit well with anybody, especially being on the defensive side of the ball. Players have been watching old film of past teams. What stood out was how fast they played and how aggressive they were. We wanted to get back to how the defense was in the past, lining up and playing tough-nosed football.”
That will hopefully contribute to more turnovers. Opponents attempted 451 passes against the Wildcats, who snagged just five interceptions (the fewest for the program since 1963) and allowed 25 touchdown passes.
“There were several opportunities when the defense was called on to change the course of the game and we didn’t do it,” defensive end Jordan Willis said.
Ertz is expected to be named the starting quarterback, but he has been competing with senior Joe Hubener – who took over as the starter after Ertz was hurt – and redshirt freshman Alex Delton. A 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, Ertz earned the job in 2015 competing against the same two teammates. He’s regarded as having the best combination of running and passing skills.
While playing Snyder Ball – being patient with the play clock and game clock – produced the usual ball-control superiority, the K-State offense didn’t produce enough big plays, especially in the passing game.
“Having possession of the ball is something we’re known for,” Ertz said. “We have a lot of young players, but we have a lot more explosive players. It’s kind of a mix. You want to maintain drives, but we have the ability to go deep and stretch the field. We’ll get all those things worked out in camp and be good at both.”
Kansas State at a glance
2015: 6-7 overall, 3-6 in Big 12, eighth
Coach: Bill Snyder
Returning starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Impact players: Jr. QB Jesse Ertz, Sr. RB Charles Jones, Soph. WR Byron Pringle, Sr. WR Deante Burton, Soph. RB Justin Silmon, Jr. DT Will Geary, Sr. DE Jordan Willis, Sr. S Dante Burnett, Sr. LB Will Davis, Jr. LB Elijah Lee
3 reasons to hope
- The Big 12’s preseason media poll has Kansas State at No. 8. That kind of disrespect is no longer motivation for the Wildcats — they’re used to it — but invariably, when K-State is predicted to finish that low in the standings, the Wildcats finish higher.
- The defense returns nine starters … which, considering most of those players earned action for a unit that struggled, might not be an advantage. However, players at K-State typically improve, so the defense should be one of the best in the Big 12.
- An inaccurate passing game lacked big plays last season. Ertz is the team’s most accurate quarterback and can throw deep. The addition of junior-college transfer Byron Pringle gives K-State a receiver who can stretch the field; that was lacking last season.
3 reasons to worry
- The offensive line has to replace four starters. Sophomore Dalton Risner started at center this season, but he was recently moved to tackle. That means all five spots on the O-line will have a new starter.
- Kansas State’s running game hasn’t delivered much for the last three seasons. In 2013 and 2014, the Wildcats compensated because they had a big-play passing attack led by Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. The run game has to be effective and provide more balance.
- Even though Kansas State had a five-minute edge in time of possession, “Snyder Ball” didn’t produce a winning season. The control-the-clock formula failed because the offense couldn’t produce enough points and the defense allowed too many.
Difference maker on offense: Byron Pringle. The sophomore who played at the junior-college level last season will asked to be the difference maker in the passing game. His ability to stretch the field was a sorely missed element last season.
Difference maker on defense: Dante Burnett. The senior safety suffered a season-ending injury in the opener and the secondary was a mess from then on. With the line and linebackers stocked with talent and experience, Burnett’s leadership in the secondary will be crucial.
It’s a fact: It’s not surprising that Kansas State’s defense allowed 31 points and 452 yards per game considering opponents were wildly successful on first down. The Wildcats allowed 6.9 yards per play on first down last season – 116th in the FBS.
Projected final record: 8-4. Four tough road games will be the difference in thwarting K-State’s run at 10 victories: at Stanford (to open the season) and Big 12 road games against West Virginia, Oklahoma and TCU. If the Wildcats can win one or two of those games, watch out.
|Sept. 2||at Stanford|
|Sept. 17||Florida Atlantic|
|Sept. 24||Missouri State|
|Oct. 1||at West Virginia*|
|Oct. 8||Texas Tech*|
|Oct. 15||at Oklahoma*|
|Oct . 29||at Iowa State*|
|Nov. 5||Oklahoma State*|
|Nov. 19||at Baylor*|
|Dec. 3||at TCU*|
|* – Conference game|