2014 CFN Preview - Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller
Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller
Posted Jul 15, 2014

Preview 2014 - It might not be fancy, but Kansas State's style still works (Getty Images)

Kansas State Wildcats

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bill Snyder
23rd year: 178-90-1
Returning Lettermen
Off: 17, Def: 21, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 27
Ten Best Kansas State Players
1. WR/KR Tyler Lockett, Sr.
2. DE Ryan Mueller, Sr.
3. C B.J. Finney, Sr.
4. QB Jake Waters, Sr.
5. OG Cody Whitehair, Jr.
6. CB Randall Evans, Sr.
7. LB Jonathan Truman, Sr.
8. FB Glenn Gronkowski, Soph.
9. SS Dante Barnett, Jr.
10. DT Travis Britz, Jr.
2014 Schedule
8/30 Stephen F. Austin
9/6 at Iowa State
9/18 Auburn
9/27 UTEP
10/4 Texas Tech
10/18 at Oklahoma
10/25 Texas
11/1 Oklahoma State
11/8 at TCU
11/20 at West Virginia
11/29 Kansas
12/6 at Baylor
With all the fancy-schmancy, hurry-up gimmick things going on in college football right now, and with so many teams doing whatever they can to go fast, fast, FAST, maybe it’s time to start copycatting what works.

Kansas State works.

It may not be pretty, it might not be the most exciting brand of football, and the head coach might not be some spiffed up matinee idol – at least to anyone not in the AARP crowd – but what’s sexy? Winning, and winning a lot.

At some point, the Bill Snyder Family Funfest is going to have to undergo a transition, but before that happens, and before the legendary, distinguished, soon-to-be 75 head coach decides that it really is time to hang up the turtleneck, there might be one more run left in him.

Of course, take that entire last paragraph, change the age, and it could’ve applied at any time from about 2001 on.

What Snyder did to create Kansas State football into something relevant is one of the great building jobs in sports history, and what he’s been able to do with Bill Snyder 2.0 when he took back the gig in 2009 is almost as remarkable considering he had to do it all over again.

Of course, Kansas State football was in a far better place after the Ron Prince era than it was when Snyder took over in 1989 for Stan Parrish, who went 2-30-1 in his three years, but it was still going to be a tough sell.

Kansas State still isn’t the sexiest college around, and the Big 12 focus had shifted from the North to the South in the late 2000s before the ten-team format kicked in, but Snyder and his coaching staff’s ability to know the JUCO ranks inside and out, get the right players to fit what the program needed, and to use the exact same system over and over and over led to a 21-5 run in 2011 and 2012 and a not-that-bad 8-5 rebuilding season last year.

Again, just like you could take most of the Kansas State write-up from the past decade-plus and recycle it, the same goes for describing the relentless formula that makes Kansas State football work.

It’s really not that hard. Don’t screw up, control the clock, get your defense off the field, win the special teams battle. It sounds easy, but it takes discipline, and it takes a certain type of player who’s cool with slowing things down rather than fly around at a 1,000 miles per hour.

But the best part about what Snyder has been able to do is that it defies personnel, to some degree. On most teams, lose key players and top talents in units and it’s time to rebuild back up and hope for the best. But every year, partly because of so many JUCO players in the mix, there’s always a big turnover, but every year all the parts end up fitting because, again, it all works into the formula and style.

Kansas State’s biggest problem and concern is at running back? It’s Kansas State – it’s going to run the ball.

There’s talent and experience on the offensive front, even if the tackles are a bit of a question mark, and with QB Jake Waters and WR Tyler Lockett back, there are stars to work around – the running back situation will work itself out and be just fine.

The defense always seems to need key replacements, and this year it’s at linebacker, But DE Ryan Mueller and the front four should be as sound as any in the Big 12, and the secondary, despite the loss of Ty Zimmerman and other top parts, will be solid once again.

So is this going to be the last time Snyder tries to crank it up and come up with a Big 12 title? Is this really the time to start thinking transition? Think of it this way – forgetting about his first run, if Snyder’s first year at Kansas State was 2009, when he came back from his mini-retirement, only Bob Stoops, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy and Art Briles would’ve had more Big 12 tenure.

Don’t expect the ride to stop quite yet.

What to watch for on offense: The continued emergence of Jake Waters. It was the first game after the Collin Klein era, and Waters had to step in and try to fill in the gaping positional hole. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 280 yards and two scores against North Dakota State, but he threw two picks, ran 11 times for one yard, and the team lost. Not asked to be a typical Kansas State running quarterback – that’s what Daniel Sams, who transferred this offseason, was for – he’s a big more of a baller and a passer who finds ways to get things done. He’s not necessarily consistent, but he showed up big in the loss to Oklahoma, played well in the loss to Texas, and ended the year with a scintillating game against Michigan. Now this is his offense, and he has to be the leader from the start. He will be.

What to watch for on defense: How will the JUCO guys fill in the gaps? The Wildcats have great players to build around in DE Ryan Mueller, LB Jonathan Truman and SS Dante Barnett, but the defense has to replace the do-it-all playmaking ability of leading-tackler Blake Slaughter at one linebacker spot and has to fill the hole at safety left by Ty Zimmerman, among other defensive openings. The key new guy should be 6-4, 315-pound JUCO transfer Terrell Clinkscales at one tackle spot, working in a likely rotation with Valentino Coleman next to mainstay Travis Britz. Clinkscales is a big-bodied interior pass rusher, 6-0, 225-pound D’Vonta Derricott is a guided-missile of a middle linebacker prospect who flies all over the field, and 6-1, 205-pound Danzel McDaniel is a big corner who can pop. Overall, the defense has to be better at getting into the backfield when Mueller isn’t terrorizing quarterbacks, and coming up with more third down stops is a must, but there’s enough in place, to go along with the new guys, to expect another good year after finishing 26th in the nation in total D.

The team will be far better if … the running game works and controls the game and owns third downs. As always, run the ball, move the chains, control the tempo, win. That’s Kansas State. The notable exception was the loss to Baylor, but the 327 rushing yards helped control the game and kept the high-powered Bear offense in check. The other four losses – North Dakota State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – all came on the team’s four worst rushing games of the season. In 2012, Kansas State lost two games, with the Oregon and Baylor defeats coming on the two worst rushing games of the season. It all ties in together – the Wildcats converted a season-low 20% of their third down chances against NDSU, a second-worst 33% of their tries against OU, and were under 50% against Baylor and Oklahoma State.

The schedule: An SEC team is going on the road to play a nasty non-conference road game against a BCS team? Auburn is coming into Bill Snyder Family for a huge, national-splash date after the Wildcats get a week off to prepare, but there’s work to do before getting to the big showdown. Kansas State will be the FCSer this time around, starting out against Stephen F. Austin, and starts out the Big 12 season with a road game at Iowa State for the only road game until October 18th. .

The second of three open dates comes at the right time with at Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma and at TCU in a rough mid-to-late season run before getting a week off to rest up for a three week final run of at West Virginia, Kansas and at Baylor, which doesn’t seem that bad, but three of the last four games are away from Manhattan.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Tyler Lockett. While he’s known for being a dangerous kickoff returner, averaging 26.5 yards per try, he’s going to be an All-America-caliber receiver after coming up with 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 scores. The Kansas State offense works around the running game, and that won’t change, but it also has one of the nation’s most efficient passing game, and that’s where Lockett steps in. Big in the big games, he ripped up Texas for 237 yards on 13 catches and obliterated Oklahoma for 278 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches. Good enough to take away the attention of a defensive backfield, that takes away a safety from focusing on the running game. He’ll also take the focus off the other targets – he needs to be gameplanned for on every play.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Ryan Mueller. Undersized, the 6-1, 240-pound outside linebacker-like end came up with two sacks and 14 tackles as a sophomore, but last year he got a wee bit bigger, getting up to 6-2 and 245, and he kept his quickness off the ball and his speed, ripping up 11.5 sacks getting to Texas Tech three times and bothering Baylor’s Bryce Petty with two sacks. While he’s not huge and he can get knocked off his base with one good shot, he’s a consistent producer and will be the guy the line works around. Now he needs others to step up to take some of the heat off so he can pin his ears back and get behind the line.

Key player to a successful season: Freshman RB Dalvin Warmack. The Wildcats always find a workhorse running back under Snyder, and they always seem to find a guy who’ll get the ball over and over and over again, to go along with the running production of the quarterback, to create a two-headed rushing monster. John Hubert led the team last year with 1,048 yards, but former quarterback Daniel Sams and starting QB Jake Waters were the other main runners. The leading returning running back is senior DeMarcus Robinson, a Kansas State prototype 5-7, 209-pound back who carried the ball five times for 20 yards. The second-leading returning tailback? There isn’t one. Sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverette Jr. are each getting their chance, but the future star of the show, top recruit Dalvin Warmack, is on the way. The 5-9, 183-pound Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year ran for 2,223 yards and 29 touchdown last year and could get the call right away.

The season will be a success if … the Wildcats come up with the third season with ten or more wins in the last four and the and the tenth in the Bill Snyder era. This is a good team that should finish in the upper-half of the Big 12, but there might not be quite enough to beat Oklahoma and Baylor to win the conference title. Even so, as long as the Wildcats beat the teams they’re supposed to, they should have a good base of at least six wins (Stephen F. Austin, at Iowa State, UTEP, Texas Tech, at West Virginia and Kansas) to build off of. They need to at least get two key wins against Auburn, Texas and Oklahoma State, who all come to Manhattan, and they have win at least one of the three tough road games against Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor. Do that, get to nine regular season wins, take the bowl game.

Key game: Dec. 6 at Baylor. The October 18th game at Oklahoma is huge, but the Big 12 has just enough landmines that a loss in Norman might not be the end of Kansas State’s Big 12 title hopes – the Sooners could easily drop a game or two if they’re unfocused. The Wildcats have to own Family Stadium, and they can’t screw up against West Virginia on the road. However, with three of the final four games away, and with Baylor to close things out, there’s a chance that the regular season finale could decide the championship – and maybe even a College Football Playoff spot – in one way or another. Even if KSU is playing the spoiler, a win would be a big deal.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Kansas State 224 – Opponents 78
- Time of Possession: Kansas State 31:44 – Opponents 28:16
- Fourth Down Conversions: Kansas State 4-of-7 (57%) – Opponents 11-of-23 (48%)

2014 Kansas State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players