The Dish: K-State, progress or not?

So, now that we’ve had a day to back away from the computer and Kansas State’s 44-36 loss in Boulder, I’m going to revisit the Twitter conversation that transpired between me and several K-State fans at the end of Saturday’s loss.

Well, I say conversation. I ranted, saying though the clay has been reshaped and the waters “calmed,” the 7-5 resume the Wildcats will have built after beating North Texas feels empty. 

Boy, did KSU fans ever respond. 

I hear ya, K-State nation. I hear the passion, and I love it. But, while I would also love to agree with you that a bowl appearance symbolizes some big step toward KSU’s return to prominence, I can’t. 

First, we know where this team stands – 6-5 overall, 3-5 and tied for third (with ownership of the tie-breaker) with Iowa State in the Big 12 North. A 7-5 record (I’m guaranteeing a win against North Texas), as just about everybody on Twitter wanted to point out, of course means KSU is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006.

Granted. 

But, if we’re going to assess the program fully in the interest of progress, we must also acknowledge:

– K-State is 2-5 in its last seven games, with *key* wins against Kansas and Texas.

– Finishing 3-5 in the Big 12 means that KSU took a step back from a year ago and has finished .500 only one time (4-4 in 2009) in the last four Snyder-coached years (’04-’05, ’09-’10) – going 11-21 in that time.  Overall, it has managed no better than 4-4 in any of the past seven years between Snyder and Ron Prince.

– Assuming a win against North Texas, Snyder will be 13-11 overall, 7-9 in the Big 12 in his second stint as head coach.

– Of what will be seven wins in 2010, only one will have come against a team that finished above .500 – that being Central Florida, by four points (17-13), at home, on a Carson Coffman touchdown run with 24 seconds left in the game.

– Dismissing its fourth-place ranking in passing yards allowed as a byproduct of its l2th-rank against the rush, K-State’s defense finished in the bottom half of the conference in nearly every major defensive category.

– After literally carrying the KSU offense the past two seasons, Daniel Thomas is NFL-bound. And, had it not been for his surprisingly great efforts while learning the running back position on the fly, K-State’s offense, ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total yards, easily could have been even more maligned than its defense this season.

– Its quarterback plans for next season again amount to stock speculation, hoping that the returns on guys not yet on campus are going to reach Michael Bishop levels.*

*Sometimes, I wonder if Michael Bishop wasn’t K-State’s version of selling its soul. Since he left, only Ell Roberson has held his own in Bishop comparisons, and on occasion, even Snyder has helped fuel unfair expectations heaped on “the next guy.” Since Ell left, it has led to an annual, cruel game of Wildcat nation unsuccessfully chasing its tail – both with and without Snyder. The most glaring recent example of this phenomenon? Aided by its hatred for Prince, the on-going quest for Bishop II so clouded the minds of the KSU fanbase that they didn’t ever appreciate a REAL NFL quarterback when they had Josh Freeman. I know I didn’t.

– The offensive line has gained enough weight under Snyder’s direction to be large, if anything. The increased size definitely has helped in steadying the offense, but it was hardly the force I thought it would be in the preseason – based on returning experience and coaching. Some minor injuries factor into that, but nothing that could be identified as “holding back” the unit from better production. 

It is what it is.

– As is the defense, which is undersized and out of position. Chris Cosh’s "I-70 defense" has allowed express running lanes up the middle virtually all season, giving up huge gains and forcing the offense to play from behind more often than not. We could spend days discussing Cosh’s influence on the defense he inherited from Vic Koenning, but it must also be kept in mind that the best defensive minds could only make up so much when dealing with 250-lb. tight-ends turned defensive tackles (Prizell Brown), and running backs turned starting linebackers (Jarell Childs).

Patchwork does not signal progress.

– And, to finish with a positive, K-State should finish as the least-penalized team among Big 12 schools. Helpful and fun, but much like this stat at this point of the column, it’s pretty irrelevant. 

So, we move along…

Earlier, I said the Kansas and Texas wins were key, and in terms of in-state rivalry and KSU’s continued unusual success against the Longhorns they are. But real improvement? The two schools’ combined record this year is 9-13, and nobody outside of Manhattan thinks those wins mean a lot.

The names involved and the 33.5-point victory margin are red herrings, perfectly suited to appear as progress. 

In K-State world, huge wins over the Jayhawks and Longhorns, in any sport, put purple fans on a sugar rush. Get both of those wins in the same season, and replace the sugar with crack. 

We all know crack is whack, not to mention it destroys all sense of reason and reality.

In a normal year, I could be convinced those two wins together could signify growth on KSU’s part. But this wasn’t a normal year. Texas is the worst it has been since 1997. Kansas…if you want to use this Jayhawks team as part of your argument for K-State’s progress, feel free. 

Progress? No. But, what they did do was contribute to getting KSU into the postseason, which brings me to the last point that came from yesterday’s exchange: what it means to be bowl-eligible.

For the first time since 2006 K-State is going to get some crucial extra practices, a reward vacation and another entry in the media guide. And, I see how getting a bowl trip might seem like a major piece of evidence worth clinging to for the progress argument.

It beats being number 71 in the country, that’s for sure. However, I again would hedge the accomplishment with a little perspective.

Among the 70 bowl slots to be filled, Toledo, UTEP, East Carolina, SMU, Syracuse and nine teams from the ACC, nine, could be selected. At 5-5 with two home games remaining, even Florida International will likely achieve bowl eligible status. 

Not exactly stellar company, but it does beat sitting home for a fourth straight season.

That said, the point of the previous 1,000 words isn’t to say something drastic like Kansas State is a poor team, or that it needs a coaching change – which is how many people took my comments on Twitter. 

The reaction was unfortunate because it assumed a “if he says we aren’t good, he says we’re bad” mentality. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying the team is average. It was treading the murky middle waters of college football when Snyder returned, and it is still there – ranked somewhere between 26 and 70.

And, aside from an occasional brush with the Top 25 (which Prince also managed to do), it doesn’t appear KSU has moved much at all, which prompted me to pose whether progress has been made.

If Coffman doesn’t rush in with 24 seconds remaining against Central Florida, then the Wildcats are 5-6 going into this weekend. So, if we view that play as a turning point to this year, wouldn’t that mean the program’s progress possibly comes down to Coffman’s legs?

I don’t know that answer, but I do know the benchmarks that helped define the Wildcats rise in the early 1990s, including bowl games, are no longer in play and shouldn’t be used to gauge where this team is now.

Bowl qualification is akin to 1,000 rushing yards in an NFL season. While of note, it no longer means what it once did, and to accept it as anything more is to confuse average with good. To blur that line, and call it progress, is to lose sight of true achievement – and a step toward forgetting how to get there.

Comment below or send your thoughts to kitchenski@hotmail.com.

This entry was posted in News_and_Views and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Dish: K-State, progress or not?

  1. williamsjrkelly says:

    Progress is debatable…
    Great analysis, and I do agree that we (K-State fans) should not see going 7-5 and being bowl bound as some amazing step forward. This season will be marked by many, many close calls and missed opportunities.

    Was progress made throughout the year, absolutely, just not in great amounts. You have to look at what this team was working with, and how close they were to actually pulling out 8/9 regular season wins (And yes, 6/7 regular season losses).

    Being in a couple of games where we were grossly out-manned (OSU/MU), we were in it until the end with chances to win. Baylor and CU were both on the road and against evenly matched opponents, and we still had chances…

    Missed opportunities. Question: How much progress would you feel the Cats would have made this year if they would have beaten OSU, MU or CU/Baylor? Just one of those games? I think your requirements to deem the program as "moving forward," are a little high…

    Great stuff Kitchen, love reading your work and the tweets…

  2. Ptolemy says:

    Huh?!?
    Who declared it acceptable to write a judgement book on a football program two years into a change at the helm? Snyder has clearly established that he takes little steps in his program building exercises. Year 1 to year 2 in this program IS an improvement. We will be going to a bowl this year. We did not last year.

    The inexperienced perspective of the youth that enjoyed KState always being good are amusing to us old timers.

  3. monkeyhawk says:

    The Metric
    Can we agree "bowl-eligible" is pretty meaningless?

    Most of Wildcat Nation will follow the team in mid December to Muncie for the PayDay Loan bowl. So?

Comments are closed.