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Midweek QB: Again, No Xs and Os Edition

In this week's version of "Midweek QB," me, Panjandrum, and EMAW forgo a pointless discussion of the game plan for Oklahoma this week.  I'm trying to stay positive, but there really wouldn't be much to say about what we should do in order to beat Oklahoma, because "praying for a miracle" isn't really a game plan.  Instead, the three of us discussed the state of the K-State program right now, and what we believe is in store over the next five weeks.

EMAW: Right now, I am so torn over my feelings for Ron Prince, I feel like I should have a VH1 reality show to follow me around and expose my neurosis. One part of me wants to boot him all the way back to Appalachin State, along with the rest of his staff (minus maybe Dave Brock and Regurrio). The other sees what KU and MU have been able to pull off by holding onto their coaches through the rough years. However, what is making us all so pissed is one little detail....our program actually had high expectations of our football team. Those other schools did not.
It's easy to see improvement in a program when you're highest glory is an Aloha Bowl appearance a decade before Mangino showed up. KU will most likely experience the same thing once he leaves, as will Mizzou when Pinkel heads out of town. But for now, this is our problem and we are left with a shakey administration to deal with it. And by shakey, I mean a first-year AD and a lame-duck President.

TB: Right now, I just don't see how anyone can make a straight-faced argument that progress is being made.  Our defense is currently 105th in the country in total defense.  That's not progress.  Our offense, while certainly the strength of the team, is inconsistent and cannot (or will not) consistently run the ball.  You could maybe argue that we have seen some progress in offensive output the last few years, but it has not been enough to consistently win football games.
Clearly, we are not going to -- and should not -- fire Ron Prince in the middle of this season.  So he has five games at this point to prove to us that this team is progressing, not only from the beginning of this season until the end, but from the time he took over until now.  If we see the team play tough, close games against OU, KU and Mizzou, and beat both Nebraska and Iowa State at home to finish the season, that would tell us a couple things.  First, it would show us that Prince got this team to fight all the way to the end of the season, something we certainly did not see last year.  Second, it would show us that the JuCo guys we brought in this year showed improvement, and could come back next year and be really solid players.  If we saw that, a 6-6 record with progression at the end of the year, I could be convinced that Prince should be given a fourth year.  Of course, that would come with the caveat that he not recruit double-digit JuCo players next year, because that is simply not a sustainable method for running a program.
Alas, I don't see any of that happening.  Playing OU this weekend fills me with dread, as I would not be surprised in the least if the Sooners scored 60+ points on us at Bill's House.  Rest assured, if that happens, the place will be empty except for about 10,000 Sooner fans, and I will be blacked-out with an empty bottle of whiskey next to me.  While I don't think KU is anything resembling invincible this year, we are playing on the road and (gulp) KU has a lot better football team than we do this year.  Finally, I foresee Mizzou getting things together here shortly, and while they've lost every other goal they had for this season, they will be sending off their greatest senior class ever when we visit Columbia.
I'd like to say that I think we're at least as good as Nebraska and Iowa State this year, but after these next three games, I would have to guess the morale of this team will be pretty low.  Suffice it to say, I would be pretty surprised if we win both of those.  I'm very, very pessimistic and cynical right now.

Panjandrum: I think this was Ron's first 'interview' year.  The last two years he got a pass because he was taking over for a program that finished last in its division two years running.  He got to a bowl in his first year, so the decline at the end of last season could be written off as an aberration that could have been attributed to a number of things.  I always said, going into year three, that this was the year I would begin to define my true feelings about Prince.

That said, after the Lousiville game, I got really, really upset and frustrated.  I saw a team that didn't improve at all from the year before, and more importantly, I saw a team get manhandled by an average Big East team.  It's one thing to get out-coached.  It's another thing to have less talent than the other team.  Both of these things may have been the case that came, but what it really boiled down to for me was the fact that our players got pushed around like rag dolls by the Cardinals.

I 'hoped' that that game was an isolated incident, but the next week against Louisiana, the defense gave up over 500 yards again, and they got killed by a basic running attack (Veer).  Again and again, this defense, and some of its senior leaders, were being suckered by misdirection over and over again.  Containment was broken over and over again.  The team got gashed for over 300 rushing yards...and it was a Sun Belt team.

Then there was Texas Tech.  Yech.

All the while, there have been maddening press conferences filled with hyperbole, asinine game plans (23 rushes against Colroado?), and God-awful clock management.  "Bold and daring", Ron's signature catch phrase that he used during his first two seasons when he took on a lot of risk, has been replaced by conservative and timid.  With the exception of fake punts, ill timed onside kicks, and whatever the Hell that clock draining 'Hail Mary' stunt was at the end of the first half against CU.  It's become running the ball in the second half of the Tech game so Leach didn't score sixty points.  Most of all, it's become kneeling on the ball with over a minute left in the half because we're afriad of getting scored upon...

This defense, with the exception of the first two games of the season, is allowing basically everyone they play to exceed their averages in yards and points (Colorado is an exception).  In nearly every category tracked by the NCAA, KSU is in the bottom half, statistically.  Also, with the 19 player JUCO haul last year, and the lack of redshirts of said juniors, we're looking at a senior class of over thirty players next year, and depending on how many players Prince signs this year, he may not be able to count enough back to fill all of the departures with the twenty-five man scholarship limit.

When you look at one or two things, you dismiss it because of the state of the program when Prince took over, or you say, "Well, he's still learning."  I get that.  I also don't have any wild expectations on how succcessful he 'should' be.  But when you look at the aggregate issues, and you look at the big picture, it give you pause.  If KSU only wins one more conference game (which is likely - Iowa State), that would put them at 2-6 on the year.  This would mean that Prince's conference record has gotten worse every year (4-4, 3-5, 2-6).  Also, if they only win one more game, they probably would have had a worse overall record every year (assuming they wouldn't have bought out Fresno St. and replaced them with Montana St.).  Between year one and year three, the defense, statistically, has gotten even worse than the #70 ranking they carried at the end of the first season.  You could be more willing to be patient if there were signs that this team were playing a bunch of young players and building for the future.  However, the nineteen JUCO players obviously flies in the face of that.

In terms of where we go from here...well, that's a sticky subject.  We've got four critical games coming up, and three of them are against our biggest rivals (@KU, @MU, NU).  If Prince goes 0-3 in that stretch, which is very possible, he would be 0-9 against those teams in three years.  If he loses those games by a large margin, which, again, is possible, you're looking at a fan base on the fence that may turn angry quickly.  Also, if he has another losing year, you're looking at a coach with an overall losing record, and overall conference losing record, and a very, very poor record against BCS competition (Prince currently sits at 8-16.  That stretch would put him at 8-20).

If you're a team making a move after three years, you better have your guy wrapped up and in the bag at the time of firing.  If you just fire the guy and have an open coaching search, that's not going to bode well after you fire a guy after three years when you just gave him an extension.  While the reasoning and justification are there, on the surface, it may scare good candidates away.  So, anything done will need to be done quietly, and it will need to be certain.

I think the next four games are critical.  If Prince beats Kansas, he'll save his job.  While I may not agree with that line of thinking, it will be hard to fire a guy who beat KU in Lawrence and potentially uses that to get to a bowl game.  If Prince finds a way to win two games in this stretch and become bowl eligible, he's in good shape.  The only way that I think he doesn't come back is if he loses all five games to end the year, or he loses the next four by a large margin, and the Iowa State game becomes a toilet bowl with 30K in the stands for Senior Day, and the fans are already in the midst of a huge revolt.  Which will probably happen if KSU loses the next three in the same fashion that they lost the four games at the end of last year.

All in all, I think Prince will most likely be back next year, and I'm not going to start nailing the coffin just yet, but his job certainly isn't as safe as some would make it out to be, and if certain coaching candidates are interested in the job, I think the odds of KSU having a new coach next year are higher than some think it probably is.

EMAW: Well, PJ may have pretty much covered it all. However, he hit on a couple of stats regarding Prince's record here at K-State, which made me think about something.
The way football teams can rise and fall in statistical rankings (say total defense for instance) from year to year makes you realize just how much of a team game football truly is. Think about this; in baseball, statistics tell us pretty much exactly how a guy is going to hit, pitch or field from year to year. There can be spikes here and there, but for the most part, a guy's batting average over 5 years probably won't vary too much. This is due to the fact that baseball is such an individual sport, where each time a hitter steps up, he is on an island against the pitcher, who is on his own island. Yes, a hitter will see changes to RBI's and home runs depending on who's hitting around him, but for the most part each guy is the holder of his own fate. Thus, I don't believe MLB managers are as valuable to teams as the GM is.

In football, you rely so much on your teammates. A guy may be pretty good, but just not put up the same numbers each year due to a change in the defensive system, or lack of play from his mates. However, in football, when a team struggles, it all falls back to the head coach. He is the one in charge of the whole ship. Not sure if any of that made any sense, but it's been rolling around my head all day. I guess I just think how you can't look at individual performance as an excuse for the play of this team. It's about a whole of the parts, not the parts of the whole.
Yeah, that's about as deep as I get.

Panjandrum: I think one of the things that's been killing me over the course of this early week is reading comments on various message boards saying, "Well, Rossman would have hit one more field goal," or, "If Alstatt wouldn't have fumbled," like that was the reason we lost.

If any of those things would have gone K-State's way, the Cats would be 5-2.  I get that.  However, there's no reason why it should have been that close.  KSU had the ball eight minutes in the second half.  EIGHT MINUTES.  They ran the ball 23 times all game WHEN IT WAS WORKING!!!  I just...don't...get it.

With all due respect to the cool dudes over at The Ralphie Report, but KSU is more than two points better than Colorado.  This should have been at least a two TD win given how surprisingly average the defense played.  The offense came out and laid a turd because the gameplan was jacked to begin with.  How many times can we say this over and over again...when KSU runs the ball over 40 times, they win the game.  Colorado averaged nearly half a yard less per carry, but they just ran, ran, and ran.  Guess what?  They won because they kept our offense off of the field.  They limited our posessions, and they allowed us to beat ourselves.  That's how bad teams win games.  Dan Hawkins gets that.

Ron seems to think that every game should be won in the last two minutes, and it's pissing me off.  That game should have been over in the third quarter, and we should have been playing keep away all fourth quater.  Had he actually put together a coherent offensive gameplan, it would have happened.

I'm gong to stop now.  My blood pressure's going up.