Maybe it's the building anticipation of diving hard back into Big 12 play, but the feeling around the Kansas State Wildcats, for a specific reason, seems a bit over-serious and angsty this week, yeah?
Let's talk it out ...
Lot of talk this week about expectations regarding the offense. Is it more fact or fiction that this side of the ball needs "something" to get it going?
Jon: I'm not trying to paint this as a well-oiled offense running at peak efficiency or anything, but I honestly believe a lot of the angst is actually just that Tyler Lockett's not putting up big numbers and K-State doesn't have a thousand-yard back. The offense has proven it can move, even against Auburn. There's been some issues actually getting points on the board, and there have been the occasional stalled drives, but look: even Baylor gets forced three-and-out sometimes.
00: To echo Jon's thoughts, I think it's just because we expected Waters and Lockett to light up every defense they way they did last season, and for whatever reason, that combo has not been clicking this year. But I don't really understand some of the criticism around the offense. They have demonstrated again and again that they can move the sticks somehow, and though it's been a struggle to finish drives in certain games, I think the unit has been solid overall.
TB: It hasn't been great. But if one of the other wide receivers can emerge as the type of threat that can make defenses pay for single coverage, the offense will be fine. And with the defense's improvement this year, what we've seen so far, with a little better finishing inside the 40, will be enough.
Kitchen: Expectation is hard, especially when it's built off of a final, darn near perfect performance from the prior season. Check this stat: No. of games in 2013 that Jake Waters' completion percentage was in the 70s: 4; No. of games Jake Waters' completion percentage was in the 40s: 4. That doesn't account for drops or other things, but it does, I think, point out that that the slanted positive memories so many have from last year and then built their expectation on for 2014, may not have truly matched up to reality.
We can run the same exercise on Tyler Lockett. Of his crazy year (81 catches, 1,262 yards, 11 rec. TD), 25 catches, 515 yards and 3 TD came from two games - Texas and Oklahoma. Nine of his 11 TD came in three games - West Virginia, OU, Michigan.
The point to all of this is that while memory and stat glance say "superb year," it really wasn't very consistent at all -- kind of like what we've seen this year so far -- but it had more big plays mixed in. Hit a couple of those exciting plays, and I think the iffy feeling goes away.
We've talked about depth several times this year. Any areas of concern for you after what you've seen through four games? How about pleasant surprises?
Jon: Last Saturday, I titled the post-game "Depth May Be an Issue", and I don't think people quite got that it was partially tongue-in-cheek. The defense has enough depth that it can withstand the loss of one or two guys and still be pretty awesome, which is a big and pleasant surprise. Concerned about depth at wideout, though.
00: I'm actually pretty happy with depth throughout. Yes, the UTEP game revealed that there are some gaps with our twos, but barring a major catastrophe, that's not particularly worrying for me. I'm pretty impressed with the depth on defense, where we seem to be able to rotate players at certain positions without much of a drop-off in performance.
TB: We need another wide receiver to emerge as a threat. Not sure that's technically a depth issue, but Deante Burton or Judah Jones or somebody has to get open. And Jake needs to find them when (if) they do.
Kitchen: Even if he hasn't had a monster game yet, Lockett's presence is enough to scare secondaries into forgetting about Curry Sexton or Kody Cook. (You can easily insert Jones in here also, but his playing time has been less than those other names.) If Lockett goes down, I wonder how this group responds. Elsewhere, I remember there being questions at linebacker early on, and we've since seen a number of guys roll through there and not really miss a beat. Oh, and kicker. Matt McCrane might be a team award winner by the end of this season.
Big 12 status check time. As the meat of the schedule gets underway, give a few thoughts on what you've seen out of the league thus far -- for better or worse.
Jon: The league, as a whole, is better than advertised in the preseason. We thought it was OU, Baylor, maybe K-State, and then the six or seven dwarfs, with Iowa State and Kansas bringing up the rear. Tech has disappointed, but Iowa State's better than we thought, and the dwarfs all look like they could potentially wreak havoc on the top echelon.
00: I'm probably alone in this, but while I think OU and Baylor are the best in the league, I'm still a bit underwhelmed by both squads. On the other hand, I thought West Virginia would be bringing up the rear again, and I'm pleasantly surprised to be wrong about that. I also think Iowa State is looking stronger than last year, even if their win-loss record doesn't agree. Finally, watch out for TCU. I'm still about 75-percent sure they're going to knock off either OU or Baylor.
TB: There are six teams in this league that are solid enough to make them a tough out. Oklahoma, Baylor and K-State are (mostly) complete teams. West Virginia is still a little defense-deficient, but it looks like the offense is clicking. Oklahoma State is ... well, I'm not sure what they are yet, but they won't be easy to beat. Texas has a defense but no offense. Iowa State plays hard and can bite you if you aren't ready to play. Then you have Tech, who is in turmoil, and KU, who is KU.
Sometime, maybe I'll write a post comparing conference schedules relative to each other, because a nine-game round robin is so much different from a 14-team, split division schedule.
Kitchen: Oklahoma's defense is stellar. Baylor might be enough of a complete package to really wreak havoc on the national scene. I put K-State in the top third of the league, but a definite line exists after the top two at this point. I think the thought is right that basically from teams 3-6, it's wide open and our opinions will change weekly. Iowa State is awfully banged up to be much of a spoiler this year. Texas Tech's brand is growing (or the head coach's anyways) despite the team being sort of listless at this point.
And, somebody tell Travis it's time to get the gun and head out back to put down this year's money-hemorrhaging, coach-less, rabies-infested cur in Lawrence. For its own good.
And finally, how much more soundly have you slept since the Big 12 threw its might into showing it would not stand for any former partner relationship to be demonstrated through the aggressive move of old windbreakers being worn on a sideline?
Jon: I, for one, am thrilled that the conference is deeply invested with the conference's image. Insignificant image concerns like what the playoff committee thinks of our champion only playing 12 games or the fact that the Big 12 can only manage to have three one-loss teams compared to the six the SEC can trot out? Minor issues which belong on the back burner. Windbreakers are really important, though, and must be dealt with swiftly and with force.
00: I think there's something fascinating about the Big 12's corporate muckety-mucks telling 75-year old Bill Snyder what he can and cannot wear. I would have loved to be there to gauge his reaction! (True story: my dad is the same age as Snyder and dresses in approximately the same way. When I asked him if he wanted a new jacket this winter, he gave me the most sarcastic eyeroll ever.)
That said, I thought the white windbreaker he broke out for UTEP was a really good sartorial choice. He's clearly the Kliff Kingsbury of the senior set.
TB: Ditto Jon. Also, Derek and I about fell out of our chairs when Snyder mentioned it at the press conference.
Kitchen: Jon, FTW.