1. K-State was coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance, losing to Arkansas last season. I think most fans expected the Wildcats to be pretty good--I don't think most people expected them to be this good. What were some key areas in which this team was better than expected?
Offensively, Collin Klein became a threat as a passer. K-State's bruising rushing attack was good enough to carry them through last season, but toward the end of the year, the offense stalled. Klein and John Hubert were beat up, and opponents didn't respect K-State's passing game. With the fear of Klein finding Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett or Tramaine Thompson on deep double moves or play-action off the zone read, defenses have had to play K-State more honestly. When the Wildcats have their opponent off balance, they're difficult to stop.
Defensively, this unit makes up for a lack of top-to-bottom elite athleticism by playing assignment-sound, disciplined football. It helps to have an NFL middle linebacker like Arthur Brown, and an all-conference safety like Ty Zimmerman. But this group excels by limiting big plays, which includes swarming to the ball and wrapping up on first contact.
2. Tell us about Collin Klein.
Can't say enough great things about the guy. He's a good athlete, a good student, a great teammate, a great leader, and a lot of other things. He's one guy who, if I were forced to talk religion or politics with him, we probably wouldn't agree on much. But I get the feeling I'd enjoy the discussion a lot more than I would with most people, which says a lot. He gets lumped in with Tim Tebow because he's a big, white quarterback who put up freak numbers in college but probably won't stick in the NFL, and isn't shy about talking about religion. But in the most important ways, he's the exact opposite of Tebow. That says a lot to me.
3. A key number to me is that Kansas State gave up 42 sacks last season, and only 13 this year. How much of that can be attributed to improvement on the offensive line?
A lot of it. Charlie Dickey is an excellent offensive line coach, who we poached from Utah after they beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. So part of it is coaching. But there's some real talent on that line. B.J. Finney leads the way at center, but this may be the best line we've ever had across the board. At least three of these guys will play on Sundays.
I don't want to give short shrift to Klein in this department, either. He improved immensely in going through his reads and taking off or throwing the ball away when nobody was open. Last year, he was often hesitant and that led to sacks.
4. The Wildcats have generally been stout against the run this season, but Baylor ran for 342 yards against very little resistance. What happened in that game?
A lot of Very Bad Things. Baylor had the perfect game plan, and then executed it perfectly, too. They stretched K-State wide until the defense was expecting wide receiver screens on very play, and then hit the Wildcats for big plays over the top. Once the defense was sufficiently spread out and worn out, they started giving the ball to Lache Seastrunk, who is a bull of a running back with speed to spare. K-State simply couldn't keep up.
5. Is the Kansas State front seven the kind that can get into the backfield consistently--as that has been part of the blueprint for beating Oregon?
Consistently is the key word there. With Meshak Williams and Adam Davis, this group can get some pressure. But they have a tendency to disappear, too. If Williams and Davis and others on the line are at full speed and can bring it for 60 minutes, they will make life more difficult on Marcus Mariota.
6. Give us a bit of info on the Kansas State secondary.
With Ty Zimmerman, it's a very solid unit. He really stepped up this season before breaking his leg against Texas Christian. Nigel Malone is a ball hawk, but not exactly a lockdown corner. He's been beaten a few times this year. Allen Chapman had three picks against Oklahoma State, so he's a player who you have to keep an eye on. They generally play more to prevent big plays rather than force three-and-outs, but they more than held their own in one of the most difficult passing leagues in the country.
7. Bill Snyder is 73 years old. He already retired once, and Kansas State fell to mediocrity. This is now twice that he has built the school into a BCS team. How long is Snyder sticking around, and are fans confident that K-State can stay at this level after he leaves?
How long he'll stick around is anyone's guess. When he came back, he said he just wanted to calm the waters. If that were the case, he would have quit after last season. But he's stuck around, and he got even better this year. Make no mistake, behind the frosty exterior, there's a guy who absolutely loves winning. As long as he's healthy and he keeps putting a contender on the field, he'll be on the west sideline in Manhattan.
As far as maintaining this level of success after he leaves, it's not likely. He's the only coach who's ever won in Manhattan. On the one hand, that proves it can be done, and if we can find the right replacement, I think we can remain a nationally relevant program. But it only takes one bad coach to do a lot of damage to any program, and with financial restraints other schools don't have, it's a lot harder to recover from at K-State.