This post sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
The general consensus from those who have embarked on preseason prognostications for 2010 is that K-State is going to be bad. Not just kind of bad, but even worse than the Ron Prince years bad. I've seen two sources predict a 4-8 season with only one conference win for the Wildcats.
Needless to say, I disagree with those predictions. It's not that I foresee a triumphant return to the top 25 for Bill Snyder's squad this year, but I definitely don't see the Wildcats looking up at KU, Colorado and Iowa State in the Big 12 North, either.
One notable exception to the rule of those prognosticators who I believe are short selling K-State is Pre-Snap Read's Paul Myerberg. Myerberg is especially notable because he still remembers how I embarrassingly "eviscerated" his rankings from a few years ago, although it ended up that he was more right than I had hoped he would be. Let's hope that he doesn't end up being wrong in the reverse direction this time.
Anyway, enough beating around the bush. K-State has some issues this year at quarterback and linebacker and to some extent defensive line. Carson Coffman returns from a failed 2009 campaign where he proved ineffective under center and was yanked in favor of fifth-year senior Grant Gregory before Farmageddon I. He was impressive in the spring game, but that was against the K-State defense's second unit, and if there's anything that's certain about this year's defense -- or team in general -- it's that they have little depth. Take anything that occurs in the spring game as nothing more than a definite possibility of a firm maybe. Unless, of course, you're a Nebraska fan and award Heisman Trophies based on the results of a glorified scrimmage.
Here's a look at the schedule for K-State this season:
9/4 -- UCLA
9/11 -- Missouri State
9/18 -- Iowa State (@ Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.)
9/25 -- Central Florida
10/7 -- Nebraska (Thursday night)
10/14 -- @ KU (Thursday night)
10/23 -- @ Baylor
10/30 -- Oklahoma State
11/6 -- Texas
11/13 -- @ Missouri
11/20 -- @ Colorado
11/27 -- @ North Texas
If one thing jumps out at me about this schedule, it's the number of toss-up games. A lot of the opponents on K-State's schedule this year are either teams that are in a state of flux or middling teams that we "should" beat at home but instead get on the road. Clearly, the UCLA game sets the tone for the season. Nobody really has any idea what the Bruins bring to the table this year, as they fell off a cliff after an impressive non-con run last season.
Win the UCLA game, and it sets the tone to possibly be 4-0 heading into the Thursday-night showdown with Nebraska. Missouri State shouldn't present any problem, but as last season showed, Iowa State at Arrowhead is anything but a given. The Cyclones return Austen Arnaud, which may or may not be a good thing for the Clones, and Alexander Robinson and will be a handful for a team with questions on the defensive front seven.
Following the Nebraska game comes a three-game stretch with teams that are all beatable, but two of them are on the road. Unlike most of the national pundits, I do not see anything in KU this season. Reverend Gill may be able to build a winner down the road, but with the loss of pretty much every skill player on offense except Toben Opurum and the defense's glue guy in Darrell Stuckey, I'm having a hard time seeing much in the 'beaks this season. That said, the game is in Lawrence on a Thursday night, and we're not exactly at the level where we can just write off teams with new coaches and new players all over the field. After that is a trip to Baylor, which still wouldn't look all that intimidating were it not for the presence of one Robert Griffin III in Waco(!). If Griffin is healthy, the Bears will be all K-State can handle on the road. Finally, the Wildcats return home to face retooled Oklahoma State, which disappointed as last year's "2008 Texas Tech" in the South and may have a coach on the T. Boone Pickens' hot seat. Without Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant, I can see that being a win, but I'm far from guaranteeing it.
The stretch run looks rough because it includes a) a game against a Texas program that surely has a little red-ass from the last two times it met K-State on the gridiron, and b) three straight road games. However, with the exception of the Missouri game, none of the road trips looks particularly murderous. One trip is to Colorado to face the Buffaloes in what seems like Dan Hawkins' third season as a lame-duck coach, and the other is to Denton, Texas, to face the UNT Mean Green. In case you missed it, things aren't going well for head coach Todd Dodge at the music school just north of Dallas.
All that said, you didn't read this post for a bunch of milquetoast non-committal analysis. And while we will certainly have more in-depth analysis between now and September 4th, if you put a gun to my head right now and forced me to make a record prediction, give me 6-6 (3-5 conference, +/- one game) and a lower-tier bowl-game appearance. Daniel Thomas, an experienced offensive line and some big wide receivers combined with a solid secondary and the return of Brandon Harold on the defensive line will be enough to get the Cats back into the postseason, albeit not by much. Still, it's progress, and it has to start somewhere.