Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Bill Snyder is a legend, not only at Kansas State where he is the winningest coach is school history, but nationally as well as he continues to defy the odds and produce one winning campaign after another.
The 2011 version of Snyder's Wildcats posted a 10-3 record, their first 10-win season since 2003, and they earned a berth in the Cotton Bowl where they lost to Arkansas (29-16). K-State opened the year with seven straight wins, which included a 36-35 decision over Baylor and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Robert Griffin III. The Wildcats also topped Missouri, Texas Tech and Kansas to begin Big 12 Conference play a stellar 4-0.
Consecutive losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State brought the team back to Earth, but Snyder rallied his troops and they responded by knocking off Texas A&M, Texas and Iowa State to close out the regular season.
OFFENSE: Collin Klein enters his senior season hoping to pick up right where he left off in 2011 when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,000 yards. One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, Klein was a man possessed last year, scoring a whopping 27 TDs on the ground while also accounting for 13 passing scores against only 6 INTs.
Snyder has all the confidence in the world in Klein, and is quick to praise the veteran signal-caller's work ethic.
"Collin is a wonderful young person. He has made tremendous improvement during his time in the program. And it's happened because of the quality of person that Collin is. Collin is one of those young guys that is truly committed, not just lip service to it, he's truly committed to becoming better every single day of his life."
He continued, "He's a tremendous family man and he works diligently every day to become a little bit better family man to try to be a better person, and certainly to become a better football student-athlete. And he works diligently at trying to improve his skills and consequently does."
The team's top receiver is back, as junior Chris Harper hauled in 40 balls for 547 yards and 5 TDs last year. Both Tramaine Thompson (21 receptions, 338 yards, 1 TD) and Tyler Lockett (18 receptions, 246 yards, 3 TDs) are expected to raise their level of play in an effort to help Klein gain more consistency in the passing game. Lockett needs to show that he's healthy after missing the tail end of last season due to injury.
Junior RB John Hubert should help keep opposing defenses from keying on Klein all the time, as he rushed for 970 yards and 3 scores in 2011. The offensive line returns just two starters, so getting the new guys acclimated early will be instrumental in the Wildcats achieving the kind of offensive balance they'll need to remain competitive in the new-look Big 12.
DEFENSE: Kansas State's defense dominated lesser opponents last year, yielding a mere 7 combined points to Eastern Kentucky and Kent State, but struggled against the better teams, which included a pair of games (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) in which the unit surrendered in excess of 50 points each time.
The 'Cats were decent against the run (131.3 ypg) last season, but were torched through the air (263.3 ypg, 26 TDs), resulting in the team ranking 103rd nationally in pass defense. The secondary features playmaking CB Nigel Malone (7 INTs, 17 passes defended) and junior FS Ty Zimmerman but simply put, the group as a whole must play better this year.
Arthur Brown led the team in tackles last season with 101, and the speedy linebacker is back for his senior year and he is expected to anchor a defense that needs stability, but more importantly, to show marked improvement in all phases of the game.
Snyder believes in guys like Brown and their ability to lead not only on the field, but in the locker room as well.
"I would suggest right now that we probably have a strong leadership, player leadership within, demanding leadership, vocal leadership, quality, caring leadership than we have had at any point in time."
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Wildcats have the benefit of returning both kickers, as seniors Anthony Cantele and Ryan Doerr have proven to be two of the more consistent special teams players in the league. Cantele made good on 17-of-23 field goal attempts in '11, including a long of 54 yards, while Doerr averaged just shy of 41 yards per punt. As for the return game, Lockett excelled in that area last season before getting hurt, averaging 35.2 yards per kick return, scoring a pair of TDs along the way.
OUTLOOK: Kansas State opens the 2012 campaign with three straight home games, the toughest of which will be a clash with Miami on Sept. 8. The Big 12 slate gets underway at Oklahoma two weeks later, and trips to Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor won't be easy.
Home dates with bitter rival Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas will of course prove difficult as well, but with Klein running the show, it's certainly possible K-State lays claim to another double-digit win total this year.
An awful lot will hinge on whether or not the defense steps up and delivers when needed the most, but you can never count out a Snyder-coached team from reaching or exceeding even the loftiest of expectations.