Every year, about this time, I get a familiar feeling. It's probably partially due to the fact that football has been over for six months, and yet we still have two months to wait for it to begin again.
But at least part of it is simply because I'm a fan. Just before last season began, Panjandrum summed up the feeling, at least as it pertains to K-State fans, pretty well (skip the first four, irrelevant paragraphs. Nothing to see. Move along.) What it means is that, right now, no matter how much evidence points to terrible suckitude for K-State this fall, no matter how much past performance indicates at least another year of bad football, no matter how much fans of other teams doubt us, I can't control the part of my brain that looks at the few positives and irrationally says, "Eh, you know, we could go 8-4 this year!"
Now, to be sure, I really don't think we'll go 8-4 this year. I could live with another 5-7 season as long as I see some improvement on the defensive side of the ball with Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator. We all know the growing pains we're going to see. If our offense gets called for delay of game on the first play from scrimmage, I will not be surprised in the least. If Bill Snyder uses three different quarterbacks in the first game because his detail-oriented mind is driven bonkers by the least little mistake, I won't be surprised. If we suffer a rash of injuries that exposes the razor-thinness of our depth, I won't be surprised.
But a couple things have happened recently that triggered the "Hope" part of my brain, and no, it wasn't because I listened to a speech by President Obama*. First, Phil Steele's magazine came out and picked us to tie with Colorado for second in the North. Yeah, yeah, preseason rankings don't mean shit blah blah blah, but to borrow and paraphrase a quote from a friend, I'll go with Steele and Vegas before I'll go with almost anyone else's opinion.
Second, when I read Steele's write-up, I can't help but be reminded of something Dr. Saturday (a.k.a., Matt Hinton) wrote about Nebraska before last season (the link is nowhere to be found). Basically, he looked at the statistically horrible season Nebraska had in 2007 and surmised that with improved coaching the Huskers couldn't help but improve. With a defensive coordinator like Vic Koenning coaching in Manhattan, I think it's similarly reasonable to expect to see our defense improve. Not top 50 or anything crazy like that, but an improvement of 30 or so slots in most defensive numbers would be a helluva lot better than what we saw last year.
Of course, the news that players like Grant Gregory (and possibly another, yet-to-be-officially confirmed QB) will be in Manhattan and eligible to compete this fall is good news for a team lacking the kind of QB Snyder prefers. That's not to discount Carson Coffman's ability and the fact that he, like the other Coffman's, is a winner in every sense of the word, but he was recruited by Ron Prince to run a pro-style offense.
Finally, K-State's schedule this year could not set up much better for a team that will need time to find its way. We play not one, but two FCS teams in the first four games of the year. Our one road non-conference game against a BCS opponent is against UCLA who was, well, not very good last year. Louisiana scared the hell out of us in Manhattan last year, but having a defensive coordinator who can teach fundamental things like tackling should do us a world of good, not to mention the fact that Michael "best dual-threat QB ever" Desormeaux is gone. In conference play, we have only one road game against North competition -- at Nebraska -- and we get a game at home against anyone's best bet for a win against the South, Texas A&M.
Yes, I know, I'm completely setting myself up for failure here. But you know what? I'm OK with that. I'm not expecting the world, and after personally witnessing the Big 12 Championship Game in 2003, whether we go 6-6 or 5-7 or anything else that doesn't result in at least a decent bowl game is essentially the same to me. So, bring on football. I'm ready for hot September evenings and cold November afternoons with my grill and a bunch of friends dressed in purple. Will our team be any good? Most signs point to no, but right now I can't stop thinking about the signs that point to "Maybe."
* I hope that wasn't too political. Just wanted to throw that in there with the "Hope" reference.