Curtis Kitchen had an excellent analysis of what 5 things need to happen for K-State to reach a bowl game in Bill Snyder's first year back as head coach. We here at BOTC are realists, and we realize things can go wrong, and football seasons that seemed so promising can end as gorey as a Zack Snyder movie.
I'm not pessimistic by nature. Actually, I consider myself to be an optimist. I try to find the good in most situations. So, don't take this as some pathetic cry that this 2009 season is doomed. However, it is worth taking a look at what issues could turn this season into more of a nightmare than a dream. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
Yeah, injuries to any team can take away hopes for championships or bowl games. But, for a K-State team that isn't particularly deep at many positions, injuries could lead to a long season. Specifically, injuries to the linebacker or defensive back positions. With the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme being implemented by Vic Koenning, added emphasis will be put on the secondary. Behind Josh Moore, the Cats don't have much qualified experience at corner. Safeties Troy Butler and Emmanuel Lamur are new to Division 1 football, so they are question marks. The same situation applies to the linebacker spots. Alex Hrebec came on strong at the end of last season, but he is far from a defensive savior. An injury to Hrebec, Ulla Pomele, or promising newcomer Kadero Terrell, and Koenning doesn't have much to work with to fill that gap. Another group that doesn't have many options in reserve is the offensive line, which leads us to issue number 2.
Editor's note: As I write this, there are rumors abound that Brandon Harold may lose significant time due to a knee injury. It's unclear how much truth these rumors hold, but we'll let you know if anything leaks out.
2. Inconsistent Offensive Line
The offensive line is already a big question mark, and the loss of Brock Unruh to a season-ending injury does not help the matter. The truthis, K-State's line has struggled the last few seasons due to injuries and poor coaching, even as they helped protect the school's leading passer in Josh Freeman. With a new offense to learn and an inexperienced crew of quarterbacks behind them, this group has a very sharp learning curve. The foundation of any good football team should start in the trenches. Mistakes up front will mean a watered down offense that needs to be at full power to keep up with other teams in the Big 12.
3. A Meltdown in LaFayette, LA
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns lost their starting running back from last season, along with the "greatest dual threat quarterback" Ron Prince had ever seen. This game still has a recipe for disaster. K-State has to travel to an unfamiliar state and an unfamiliar stadium to play their first FBS team of the season. We've seen teams sleep walk through away games against lesser foes before. Confidence is such a fragile egg when in the hands of college athletes. A couple of big wins can propel teams to historic seasons. But, losing a winnable game during the easy portion of your schedule can come back to haunt teams later.
4.The Defense Shows Remnants of Tibesar's Reign
It's not a shocking revelation that K-State's defense reeked last year, finishing 117th in total defense. Yes, the Big 12 had some offensive juggernauts that made scoreboards across the conference resemble those found in basketball arenas, but that's no excuse for poor preparation and sloppy fundamentals. I think it's safe to say that Vic Koenning and Chris Cosh are definite upgrades over the crack team Prince assembled. However, new coaches can often face a tough transition, especially when implementing a new system like the 4-2-5. Most of the players on the roster that were here last year were recruited for Tibesar's system, which means we'll see some guys that may be playing different positions, or who just don't have much experience. If the defense doesn't work out the kinks by the time they hit conference play, it will surely be another bowless season for the Cats. Defense is a high priority for this season - and the entire program - to be successful.
5. Special Teams Becomes a Circus
During Snyder's first round as coach, K-State had one of the strongest special teams units in the nation every season. Every aspect of the unit was able to help the team win ball games. Well, except there was this one time...but, I digress. While special teams may not always be a deciding factor in the game, it's the small moments that can add to up to wins. Plus, if the offense sputters, special teams can provide your team cheap ways to score, whether it be by blocking punts or returning kicks for touchdowns. Not to mention the effect the punt team plays in the battle for field position. Last year's Swiss cheese defense was not helped by the fact that our punters only averaged 37.75 yards per punt (105th in the nation). Ryan Doerr should hopefully help us in this area, and he may even battle Josh Cherry for time on the field goal unit as well.
It's a pretty safe bet that one of these five things will probably occur over the course of a season. But, that doesn't mean it's a sure bet the season is lost if one of them does. It will just make it more difficult for the team to find success. As Kitchen pointed out in his article, each of those 5 items will have to happen for K-State to reach a bowl game. Here, it's more of a toss up. A loss to LALA may be negated by wins over KU and Nebraska later in the season. That's what makes college football exciting, and that's what keeps us all watching and hoping for those dream seasons to come true.