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What about John Hubert's improvement?

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Yesterday, I advocated more passing for Collin Klein and found some encouraging stats to show why we have some reason to believe he'll be a lot more prolific through the air.

Klein has gotten most of the attention this offseason whenever anyone talks about the Kansas State offense. I'm not sure why, though it may have something to do with the fact that he accounted for more than 63 percent of the team's total yards from scrimmage and none of his backups have ever taken a single snap.

Nonetheless, the running back is sure to play a crucial role in a Bill Snyder offense, and John Hubert is also returning as a starter for his senior junior* season. After looking at the numbers of past quarterbacks, I was curious to see if we might find a similar trend for running backs.

*OK, this was a pretty egregious error, and I feel like an idiot now. It arguably destroys the premise of this post, however, I think it's still slightly instructive to look at these numbers anyway, as Hubert is the only other sophomore besides Darren Sproles and Lamark Brown to lead K-State in rushing in the last 15 years.

My memory told me no, but as it turns out, Darren Sproles' unforgettable junior year was actually an easily explained anomaly. Let's take a look at the numbers and see why Hubert could actually play a bigger role in K-State's offense.

Again, we'll look back at the last four Snyder-era (3 different rushers led KSU during the 3 Prince years anyway) running backs and see how they did during their junior season, followed by their senior season. This time I'll also include Hubert's numbers from last year (his sophomore year), which is probably something I should have done with Klein yesterday.

RB Att Yds Avg. TD
Eric Hickson '97 169 750 4.4 9
Eric Hickson '98 169 902 5.3 9
Josh Scobey '00 169 718 4.2 16
Josh Scobey '01 240 1,318 5.4 11
Darren Sproles '03 306 1,986 6.5 16
Darrren Sproles '04 244 1,318 5.4 11
Daniel Thomas '09
247 1,265 5.1 11
Daniel Thomas '10 298 1,585
John Hubert '11 200 970 4.8 3

First of all, the fact that Hickson two years in a row and then Scobey just two years after that carried the ball exactly 169 times is a little creepy. Someone may want to investigate that. For the record, Joe Hall led the team with 121 carries in 1999.

More importantly, though, we see that every running back saw a pretty dramatic improvement from year-to-year except for Sproles, who of course no longer had Ell Roberson to draw some attention away from him or Nick Leckey to block for him. The nature of the position dictates that running backs are influenced more by those types of factors than quarterbacks, and those were two very crucial missing pieces.

Hickson had to share carries his senior season with Michael Bishop and Frank Murphy as part of a virtually unstoppable offense, so it's no surprise that he's the only one on this list who didn't get more carries in his best year. It seems safe to say that if John Hubert continues to go beyond what I once thought was his ceiling and improves his effectiveness, he'll see the football more.

The offensive line is a bit of a question mark, but the benefit of playing alongside Klein should be even more pronounced than it was last year, since now everyone knows what he can do. The job is clearly and deservedly Hubert's to lose, even though Angelo Pease, DeMarcus Robinson, and Robert Rose could all conceivably cut into his carries with a bit of hard work and luck.

Add in the fact that Snyder should may be looking for ways to keep Klein fresher for the entire year if he doesn't need him to win every game in the fourth overtime quarter again, and it might just be the perfect formula for Hubert to break out. Just in case you're concerned that hoping for improved numbers from both a quarterback and running back might be a little ambitious, consider that the combinations of Coffman/Thomas and Bishop/Hickson both achieved the feat.

Personally, I still have a hard time believing Hubert possesses the quickness, speed and strength needed to reach 1,000 yards in the Big 12. Then again, I never would have thought he'd come so close last season, and I'd hope by now we all know better than to bet against Snyder players making progress.