DALLAS — Though finding a starting quarterback to replace Collin Klein was easily the hot topic for Kansas State at Big 12 Media Days on Monday, perhaps the bigger questions facing the Wildcats this season fall on the defensive side of the ball.
K-State, picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, lost nine defensive starters, including six of its front seven players and three out of four in the secondary. The Wildcats, coming off their second Big 12 championship, return just senior linebacker Tre Walker and senior safety Ty Zimmerman.
Last season the Wildcats were third in the Big 12 in total defense, behind only TCU and Texas Tech. Duplicating that, with so many new faces, could be a hefty challenge for K-State in the pass-heavy, speed-first Big 12. In part, what made last year’s Wildcats so successful on defense had a lot to do with what they did on offense in controlling the ball and time of possession.
K-State coach Bill Snyder understands that argument, but said Monday no matter what his Wildcats do on offense, its not going to slow the opponent’s offenses down.
“Our defense will have a tremendous challenge because of the speed or the tempo of so many football teams in the Big 12 — everybody moves too rapidly,” he said. “You hear the numbers, and everybody keeps track of the amount of time it takes from one snap to the next, and a lot of teams averaged 18, 19 seconds between snaps. I’m watching the University of Texas in their spring game and they’re going every 9 or 10 seconds in some of the series that they ran.
“You can say you take up more time, and therefore the defense is not on the field as long. That might be true in terms of 30 minutes per ballgame for offense or defense… But it’s how fast they go during that period of time. If somebody is going so fast and they’re getting in 90 plays a ballgame, then your defense is going to have some issues.”
The lack of returning starters on defense will also affect what the Wildcats do on special teams as well this season. K-State had the best special teams units in the country a year ago. And though returners Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are back, so many of the others that made the units go, are gone.
“When you lose as many as we did on defense, that can have an impact on your special teams because so many of your defensive players play on special teams,” Snyder said. “We’ve been fortunate to have pretty good special teams units… but an awful lot of the personnel on those units, those six units, were defensive players as well.”
On the offensive side — though with no starting quarterback just yet — the clear strength should be the Wildcats’ veteran offensive line with all five returning. That could be a very good thing for the new quarterbacks in sophomore Daniel Sams and juco transfer Jake Waters — whoever wins the job — if the line doesn’t take the assumed job security for granted.
“If I’m the quarterback, I’m awful happy about it for sure,” Snyder said. “But it’s a double-edged sword, I think. Number one, given the options, you’d rather have all of them coming back, but you’d want to have them all coming back in an environment in which they are going to improve and continue to get better.
“You have all five of your offensive line starters coming back. They’re aware of that as well. Now, whether or not they take some things for granted because of that, it would put us in dire jeopardy. If they don’t take anything for granted and they commit themselves to becoming better, then it’s a very, very positive thing.
“It can work both ways for you. But I’d rather have it the way it is than the other, though.”
Snyder always has a mile-long list of concerns going into a new season, another week or even another day. Nothing has changed this year either, as the Wildcats get set for their season opener at home on Aug. 30 against North Dakota State. But one thing in certain, where his team was picked in the preseason poll isn’t on that list.
The Wildcats were picked sixth, just as they were a year ago when they actually won the conference title. The year before, K-State was tabbed eighth, but finished second.
“I think I said last year that, if I were given the opportunity, I would have picked us 99th,” Snyder said. “As I look as it this year, right now where we stand, I’d probably echo the same thought.”
Snyder recalls first job
Who knew Snyder was so diverse? When asked Monday about his first assistant coach position, the soon-to-be 74-year-old coach recalled his job in Gallatin, Mo.
“This was a high school position,” he said. “I was an assistant football coach and assistant basketball coach and assistant women’s basketball coach, assistant track coach, drove the school bus, taught four units of Spanish, which I knew nothing about, and I made $6,000 a year.
“And I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, in all honesty, because I’d never had a paycheck worth very much prior to that.” he said.