Spring football is here, and with it, the boundless optimism of a fan base fresh off a bowl appearance and yearning for more.
Of course, that optimism should be tempered by the fact that we lost the bowl game and a ton of starters on both sides of the ball, including from a defense that was one of K-State's worst.
Oh, and we did nothing to improve the coaching staff from a youth and vitality standpoint.
Follow the jump as Ahearn Alley, BracketCat, K. Scott Bailey, Panjandrum and TB debate those topics, preview what they most want to see in the spring game and assess the State of the Big 12 as it embarks on its next chapter.
1. Which five players are you most excited to see play April 30, and why?
K. Scott Bailey:
Bryce Brown, because if he's as advertised, we'll be probably be at least at the same level as last year; Collin Klein/Justin Tuggle, because I'll believe that Klein has been moved to WR when I see it, and I'm not convinced that Tuggle > Klein; Arthur Brown, because after Coach Snyder kept Chris Cosh on the staff, Brown is our best chance at an immediate defensive upgrade; the candidates for the three interior OL jobs, for obvious reasons; Chris Harper, because I think he has the potential to become a real big-play guy, and because we already pretty much know what have with Tramaine Thompson and Brodrick Smith.
1. Justin Tuggle: I can’t help but overhype this guy in my mind, considering his pedigree. I know full well that the statistics say he might not even be a homeless man’s Michael Bishop, let alone the next Cameron Newton, but I’m still holding onto the hope that Snyder’s system will bring out the best in him and make him the best new QB in the Big 12. That’s not too much to ask, is it? (Don’t answer that).
2. Collin Klein: Whether he’s at wide receiver or quarterback (which is where I expect him to be) Klein needs to be able to make an impact this season. He seemed to be getting past some of his nerves as the season wore on and he’s clearly an excellent option quarterback. Every once in a while, he showed some flashes of knowing how to throw a football, and one of my good friends in Manhattan is convinced this guy can really be an accurate passer. I personally don’t see that ever happening, but I would love to be proven wrong.
3. Bryce Brown: No one is entering the spring with more hype or bigger shoes to fill than this guy. Actually expecting him to replace the production of Daniel Thomas would have been like expecting "Outsourced" to be as good as the second season of "Parks and Recreation." It just isn’t going to happen. But considering Brown’s losing battle for playing time at Tennessee came behind an NFL-level tailback in Montario Hardesty, I’m still betting he’ll be a better replacement than Ben Rappaport and Rizwan Manji.
4. Arthur Brown: Bryce’s brother doesn’t have as good as an excuse as his brother for failing at his first school, even though Miami’s linebacking corps did have three guys who will probably eventually see time in the NFL. Fortunately, Brown won’t have to do nearly as much as his brother to stand out on a defense who could use anyone that knows how to make tackle. Oh, how I yearn for the days of Terry Pierce, Ben Leber, Mark Simoneau, Ted Sims, etc.
5. Meshak Williams: I really don’t know a whole lot about this juco defensive end as a player, although I think he should be a starter and could be a solid contributor. But just from following his Twitter account (@THE42Beast), I know I want him to succeed very badly. His bio (all sic’d, of course): "One of the nices outgoing person u would ever meet...Thats Meshak Williams From Slytown Georgia."
Bryce Brown: Well, this is kind of a "duh". Who isn't excited to watch the former No. 1 high school recruit and U.S. Army All-American play for your team?
Arthur Brown: Well, duh. Who wouldn't want to watch another former U.S. Army All-American play for your team?
Justin Tuggle: The difference between a good offense and a great offense this year rests on his shoulders. If he can utilize his athleticism and actually give us a spark at the quarterback position, this offense could be a real joy to watch.
Brodrick Smith: We already know how good he is, but that injury last year was awful. Can he regain the same speed that made him our best wide receiver before he went down against Nebraska?
DeMarcus Robinson: A four-star running back who was the crown jewel of the 2010 recruiting class. He redshirted last year and we'll finally get to see him in action.
I specified five spots because I knew everyone would pick the Brown brothers and Justin Tuggle. Go ahead and chalk them up collectively as one of my five.
That leaves: 2) the recently redshirted Tanner Burns, who I think will challenge Tysyn Hartman for his starting safety role from Day 1; 3) incoming JUCO cornerback Archippus "Kip" Daily, who appears to be our most talented option at our most decimated position; 4) Adam Davis, last year's version of Meshak Williams, who thought his career was over to a back injury, but will try to give it another go in his mulligan junior season; and 5) the new long snapper.
Nah, just kidding. 5) is actually DeMarcus Robinson, the lightning bug who broke all of Bryce Brown's Wichita high school records, whom Daniel Thomas recently compared to Kendall Hunter in running style and who will be relied upon to serve as the WIlliam Powell to Bryce's DT replacement act.
My dark horse bonus pick is Samuel Harvill. Although I suspect he will redshirt, he might be too strong for the coaches to keep off the field on the defensive line. The kid is a beast.
No long explanations here, but Arthur Brown (because the defense needs the most help), Bryce Brown (because of the hype), Brodrick Smith (because he was probably my favorite player last year until his injury), Meshak Williams (because that's such an awesome first name) and whomever steps up at quarterback (because, like, we really need one).
2. Which position or coaching change excites you the most?
K. Scott Bailey:
I'm looking forward to seeing if they actually do move Klein to WR, since that seems like a very odd thing to do.
I’m really excited to see a new defensive coordinator ready to try and fix a unit that’s been broken for s...WHAT? Chris Cosh is still here? Why? In the immortal words of John McEnroe... You cannot be serious!
You asked this question to piss me off, so I'm not going to dignify Snyder's pathetic hires with a genuine response. And, yes, I'm looking right at you, Sean.
The move of Emmanuel Lamur to outside linebacker intrigues me. First, it heralds a possible return to a 4-3 base defense. Second, Lamur clearly showed two years ago that he has the ability and wherewithal to make game-changing or game-winning plays. But he took a big step backward last season.
Whether it was the change in position coaching, his concussion, overall breakdowns in the defense or some combination of all three remains unknown, and probably always will.
But maybe a change in scenery that minimizes his weaknesses (coverage) and maximizes his strengths (laying the wood) will help him regain his sophomore form.
I cannot wait to see the famed Sean Snyder special teams. It's going to be epic.
3. Even though our starting QB, RB and interior OL are unknown, there is optimism for the offense in its third year under Snyder, Dimel and Miller. Do you think the offense will be better, worse or about the same in 2011, despite the loss of Carson Coffman, Daniel Thomas and three OL seniors (not to mention two senior WRs)?
K. Scott Bailey:
Our WR corps will be fine, if not slightly better, since I think the combination of Harper, Smith and Thompson will be very exciting, and will easily replace Aubrey Quarles/Adrian Hilburn. We are also in good shape at RB, with B. Brown stepping in and a couple of young guys behind him that saw a bit of action last year.
Whoever is our QB will be better at the running side of things than Coffman was, so that's at worst a wash, and at best, an upgrade.
The real question on offense comes down to our OL. If we are able to find three guys who can step in and replace the guys we lost, and not be a significant downgrade, I think we will be quite a bit better (or at least far more consistent) on offense.
Sorry, guys, but I just don’t see any way this offense gets better unless Bryce Brown and probably some other guys just blow the lid off expectations.
Carson Coffman wasn’t a great quarterback, but for the most part he did a good job of intelligently playing within himself, which is more than, say, Blaine Gabbert did in the fourth quarter of the Insight Bowl (Mizzou fans, please consider that cheap-shot retribution for the Frank Haith situation. Now we’re even as long as Frank stays?).
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that kind of awareness from a brand-new quarterback who will not be as smart as Coffman, and I’m not all that optimistic about Brodrick Smith and Tramaine Thompson immediately becoming impact receivers after serious injuries last season.
Well, both tackles return, and will be seniors nonetheless, so that gives you optimism about the offensive line.
And while one would wonder how a team could replace a game-changer like Daniel Thomas, I think everyone is pretty confident that there won't be a drop off with Bryce Brown. Braden Wilson will hold down the fullback spot again, all of the tight ends come back and one hopes that Charlie Dickey (who I am very impressed with) can find three guys to plug in the middle.
I'm really not immensely concerned about the quarterback position because last year proved that we can still score a boatload of points with a below average one.
My biggest concern surrounds Brodrick Smith and Tremaine Thompson. I'm really, really hoping that both of them are able to come back next year at full speed, and their leg injuries didn't slow them down. I really think the offense is poised to break out this year if they are at full speed, regardless of who lines up under center.
I think better. Coffman's stats were inflated because much of his success came after games were already out of hand, either in our favor (Kansas) or our opponent's (Nebraska, Baylor, etc.). No matter who starts at QB, he will have a stronger arm and better running ability than Coffman. Decision making will be the key, of course.
No matter what, our running attack should be at least as good as last year's. Bryce Brown projects better as a pro back than DT, and John Hubert and Robinson will add some pop to the attack. Braden Wilson's still a beast.
I thought last year's offensive line underachieved slightly, so I don't see why this line (eight deep with players weighing more than 300 pounds, most of whom are in their third year in Charlie Dickey's system) can't be at least as good.
Receivers might not be quite as effective as last year as an overall group, but Brodrick's our best downfield run blocker and I think we will lean on our tight ends more. Andre McDonald could have a monster year, considering all the other weapons we'll throw out there.
I'm hesitant to say it's going to be better, because by the numbers, it was pretty incredible last season.
With running backs such as Brown and DeMarcus Robinson replacing Daniel Thomas, what we all hope is the healthy return of Brodrick Smith, and the enigma that is Chris Harper, there's every chance in the world this group can be good.
And I agree with the above statements in that I expect Charlie Dickey probably can throw together a pretty good offensive line. So the question remains who will be the quarterback, and more specifically whether any of the QBs can get the ball downfield to Smith, Harper and Tramaine Thompson.
4. Is there any hope for defensive improvement after what we saw in 2010? If so, why?
K. Scott Bailey:
Yes, there is some hope for improvement, if only because we're getting a supposed stud to plug in at LB with A. Brown. Also, with Cosh (hopefully) coaching for his job, perhaps his level of awfulness will subside a bit. I would consider somehow finding a way to "only" 26-27 ppg and less than 400 ypg progress.
I’ll play the optimist on this one. How could it possibly get worse? But seriously, I think Stephen Harrison and Terrance Sweeney were a little overrated at cornerback, and K-State’s most underrated player (at least according to postseason recognition), David Garrett, returns with a permanent spot in the lineup.
Snyder did a good job of finding JUCOs at the positions where they were needed most (defensive line and defensive back), but it’s always hard to say how well players will make that jump.
The defense most likely will get better, in spite of Chris Cosh's glaring incompetence. There simply is more depth across the board (especially on the line), we finally have an athlete at linebacker (Arthur Brown) and a bevy of JUCO corners signed in the offseason means we actually may have some depth there.
Garrett is a tackling machine who will hold the Wildcat safety position down and Ty Zimmerman hopefully will be even better going into next season. If we can get Hartman to play like he did pre-injury, the defense may have pretty solid front-line talent to compete.
Depth probably will be a concern, as usual, but this most likely could be the best front-line defensive talent we've seen on this team since 2003.
I've been optimistic of defensive improvement in every season since the Lynch Mob (R.I.P.) first collapsed in 2004. I've rarely been rewarded. But things seem even worse lately, with two of K-State's historically worst defenses taking the field in the last three seasons.
I'm still hoping it's primarily due to the overall talent decline that occurred under Ron Prince and not to sheer incompetence on the part of Chris Cosh, but I'm worried it's a 50-50 proposition. We appear to be bringing in players who can improve our situation, but JUCO players and freshmen always present unknowns.
At this point, I'll just be thrilled if it doesn't get any worse. One thing's certain: We should know after this season whether our primary problem is talent or coaching.
There's hope. You guys have already pretty well covered the reasons why, so let's just say that if we don't at least see some measurable progress out of this defense this year, Bill Snyder will lose a lot (more) of the fan base if he doesn't replace Chris Cosh.
5. BONUS QUESTION: Now that the men's revenue sports have wrapped up play, what is the State of the Big 12 entering 2011-12?
K. Scott Bailey:
Last summer (even after the conference was clearly going to survive), I wasn't optimistic at all about the league's chances of survival beyond 5-7 years. I have, however, come to believe that this "marriage of convenience" actually might have some staying power.
The way I now see it is that the Big 12 is like a large, polygamous family. Texas is the rich, fat sunuvabitch who we all married and without whom most of us would be homeless vagabonds.
As in any such marriage, there is the preferred "wife" (in this case, and Oklahoma) who everyone accepts getting more largesse from the jackass husband, because she's better-looking.
There's also the oldest wife (in this case, Texas A&M), who now is fat, snaggle-toothed and more than a bit insane, but since the husband forgot to make her sign a pre-nup, she gets more money, as well. The rest of us?
Well, I'm getting disgusted just thinking about what we are and why we stay in this "marriage," so I'm not going to color in that part of the analogy any further. Suffice to say, none of us is going anywhere any time soon.
And I'm actually very excited to see how the true round-robin format ends up playing out in both football and basketball next season.
I think it’s time for most of us (me included) to offer Dan Beebe (no, not that one) an apology. It’s hard to say exactly how much credit he deserves, but it sure looks like he knew what he was doing all along and it’s safe to assume he did some great work behind the scenes to keep his conference in good shape.
If the conference really pulled off a $90 million TV deal, the guy might deserve some kind of award. I know it will hurt K-State, but I think the balanced scheduling (despite the lack of a championship) is good for the Big 12, which is going to have some really good football teams next fall. Plus, we’ve got the best blogger on ESPN.
What is the state of the Big 12? I pretty much view it as 10 guys dumped on a prison island that's surrounded by a thousand miles of water on all sides and is patrolled by gun boats.
I think that while folks are extremely excited and antsy for more conference realignment Armageddon, I don't think there's really anything major on the horizon.
The Big 12 is looking to secure a ton of money in second-tier TV rights negotiations, which could exceed (or come close) what the ACC just renegotiated for its first and second tiers, when you combine it with our existing crap first-tier deal.
Ultimately, this conference, including Texas, is going to swim in so much money that everyone's about to be too "Oprah Rich" even to consider leaving. This conference is on stable ground and these teams are stuck together.
Business is too good to do anything different.
I approach this question from the standpoint of coaching stability. A conference's major programs are only as strong as their patriarchs, and the reconfigured Big 12 will have a collection as good as any other power conference.
Football: Three coaches who have been here for the entire duration of the conference, minus no more than 3 years (Brown, Snyder, Stoops); another one who had an undefeated season and conference championship (Tuberville); the best coach in modern Mizzou history (Pinkel); and respectable adversaries with a decent upside (Briles, Gundy, Rhoads, Sherman). Oh, yeah, and that Reverend guy.
Basketball: The cream of the crop. We've got coaches with Final Fours (Barnes, Kruger, Self), Elite Eights (Drew, Martin) and Sweet Sixteens (Gillispie, Turgeon). The jury's still out on, Frank Haith and Fred Hoiberg, but each appears to be at least a respectable recruiter. They're all young, too, so improved bench coaching might come with seasoning and experience. Stability has been the key. Ever since the great shakeup of 2006, when half the league's coaches turned over, we've maintained a solid group. Even though Anderson, Knight, Sadler and Sutton are gone from that core group, we've brought back Gillispie and even a goldie oldie in Lon.
I promise I'm going to write a full-length post on this at some point, but for now here are my thoughts. I've read two posts recently talking about how the Longhorn Network is bad for the Big 12 and bad for college football.
Leaving aside why it's bad for all of college football, let's look at the following statement: "The Longhorn Network is bad for the Big 12 because it causes instability in the conference."
In legal or other argumentative writing, that's known as a conclusory statement. It states a conclusion, but no supporting reasons. It doesn't tell us why the LHN causes instability in the conference.
I'll concede it causes jealousy among those who get less money than UT, but that's just jealousy, not instability.
For instability to occur, we would need an outside option that's more attractive for schools that get less.
This is where we get into my other point. You always have to think of these situations in terms of alternatives.
It's easy to say that the other schools are jealous of UT's and OU's money, but unless there's a better alternative, so what? So tell me, what's the alternative? Mizzou to the Big Ten? Nope, they never got a phone call last time around. KU to the Big East? Please. Texas Tech and/or Oklahoma State to the Pac-10? Don't make me laugh.
And Texas and Oklahoma aren't going anywhere, because they can't take the LHN and Sooner TV with them anywhere they go. And they're not going independent.
Now, whether UT and OU should act like this is a different story...