This week we sit down with 'Bring on the Cats' for a set of questions related to this weekend's game in Manhattan. Given that Kansas State looks really good and Kansas is at the beginning of a rebuild, I took some of these in a slightly different direction. Rather than focus on the who's and how's of this game, I wanted to get a K-State perspective on the how's and why's behind Bill Snyder's success with the Wildcats.
A lot better than I thought it'd be after four games. I was more pessimistic than most K-State fans coming into the season, figuring the more difficult schedule could result in an 8-4/9-3 season. And it still could. But the way K-State is playing right now, I don't see anyone in this conference that we absolutely cannot beat. West Virginia will be tough, but we should be able to run all over them. Ditto Baylor and, to a lesser extent, Oklahoma State. Texas and TCU will be dogfights, and I'm not counting out Iowa State or Texas Tech, either. There's still a long way to go, but with a win in the bag like that, there's definitely a chance.
Why is Bill Snyder so good? Watching a Kansas State game there is rarely a wasted play on offense and the defense performs at a high level. As a Kansas fan we look at recruiting classes and the difference between the schools is negligible if not in the favor of the Jayhawks. On the field come Saturday it's not even close, Bill Snyder does more with his team than perhaps anyone in college football. What is it?
He may not have pioneered the phrase, but Bill Snyder has won championships with the motto "get a little better every day." It seems so easy, but it's not. Snyder is organized and thorough in a way that defines the phrase "control freak." There's no detail too small to escape notice. K-State's offense is considered boring in the era of ubiquitous spread passing attacks, but if you appreciate a team that is patient and extremely varied in its approach, then K-State is fun to watch. Snyder will run plays over the course of several drives, if not several games, to set up something in an important moment.
A case in point was the behind-the-back jump pass against Miami. It didn't work, and it looked pretty ridiculous in not working, but it was actually not a half bad idea. Last year against Miami, K-State scored on a jump pass from Collin Klein. This play was designed to make Miami think the jump pass was coming, then fool them when Klein pitched the ball behind his back to Chris Harper. But the play was executed poorly when it really counted, and thus ended up being a failure. Nobody's perfect, but the rationale behind that play was built on thorough preparation.
On the same note, what do you attribute the Wildcats player development to?
A lot of hard work and willingness to accept coaching. As you mentioned, K-State does not compete with elite college football programs for four- and five-star talent. Under Snyder, the Wildcats are built on talent evaluation, or finding kids who are good, but not outstanding athletes, but are able to get better by accepting good coaching. Aside from that, former players have said Snyder's practices are notoriously brutal. There's a lot to learn and a limited amount of time to not just learn it, but to get it perfect. Snyder has mastered this art.
Looking at this game do you expect Snyder to go for the throat as he has in the past? How does Kansas keep it close?
Bill Snyder will never take his foot off the gas against KU. If you look back at the long and mediocre history of the Sunflower Showdown, you'll find that it is exceedingly rare that either school has a good football program. Rarer still, to the point of being non-existent, are the times when both programs were good simultaneously. In a state with as little population and in-state football talent as Kansas, the clearly superior program has a huge advantage. Young basketball players in Kansas grow up dreaming of playing in Lawrence. Snyder knows that it is imperative that young football players in Kansas dream of playing in Manhattan.
What is the succession plan at Kansas State? Last time things didn't go so well, is that a concern or do you expect Bill Snyder to live forever? If he does that, I'm going to become extremely discouraged.
We're hoping he lives long enough that we can clone him. Failing that, there is definitely concern about replacing Snyder. It's a fairly open secret in Manhattan that Bill Snyder wants his son, Sean, to replace him. Ordinarily that'd be fine, but Sean's only coaching experience is as Bill's special teams coordinator. That's not going to cut it at the Big 12 level. Our current athletic director is upwardly mobile and ambitious, and if he's still around, I can't imagine him allowing Snyder to dictate the most important hire of his career. But that assumes that John Currie stays in Manhattan longer than Snyder continues to coach, which is an open question.
My first choice to replace Snyder would be one of his better former assistants, such as Jim Leavitt or maybe even Dana Dimel. Failing that, I'd like to see us look for an accomplished head coach at the lower FBS or FCS level. We've tried the assistant-coaching route before, and as y'all are well aware, that didn't work out so well.
Charlie Weis has openly stated that he'd like to figure out how to model the program after the success at Kansas State. Obviously Kansas fans have that rivalry thing going on, but at the same time it has gotten to the point where Snyder has earned a lot of respect among the Kansas fanbase for what he does. What do you perceive that model to by and why has it been successful at a program that was so bad before his arrival?
The model is one of gradual improvement, as I mentioned above. You weren't going to turn the 1988 K-State Wildcats into a Big 8 contender in one year, or even three years. But by getting a little better the first year, and then a little better the next year, and then even a little better the year after that, all of a sudden they went from 1-10 to going to a bowl game. Any program can do the same thing under the right coach, and if Weis figures that out, he could improve the situation in Lawrence. But I'm still just not sure Weis has the makeup to be successful at the college level, although I'm hardly an unbiased observer. While he clearly knows the game very well, he's married to his pro style of play, and that rarely works at the college level unless you have superior athletes at almost every position. Snyder is able to exploit weaknesses through thorough preparation and a keen attention to detail. Only time will tell if Weis shares those attributes.
Let's have the dreaded prediction for this weekends game....be nice...ok you don't have to.
I'm always loathe to predict a blowout, because my life experience has taught me that's almost guaranteed to blow up in my face. And K-State has shown this year that it's perfectly capable of playing down to the level of its competition. We'll find out on Saturday whether the Missouri State and North Texas games were a product of Snyder playing it close to the vest, or a result of the players not focusing against an overmatched opponent. If it's the latter, we very well could see a closer-than-expected game in Manhattan.
But the homer in me thinks those early games were the result of very basic offensive playcalling and defensive schemes, and we know that won't happen against KU. Further complicating matters, our backup quarterback, Daniel Sams, has shown a real ability to break long runs late in games and make the score look worse. My guess is K-State wins comfortably, something like 55-10. Which means this will end up being a dogfight into the fourth quarter.