It's a fine day 'round these parts - sun's out, temps are still summer-like, the Kansas City Royals are battling for a World Series title, and the Kansas State Wildcats are atop the Big 12 Conference standings.
Whether K-State finishes the season in that spot is up for debate, however ...
A win is a win, and last week's left K-State all alone at the top of the Big 12 standings. On a scale of 1-100, what's your confidence level the 'Cats are there six games from now? Why or why not?
Jon: Not particularly high. I think there's a reasonable chance they'll be tied for the lead, but this week's projections from the inestimable Bill Connelly do not paint a rosy picture, and we may as well go ahead and start printing TCU Big 12 Champion t-shirts because odds are we won't have to ship them to Sierra Leone.
00: 25? Honestly, I think the Big 12 is too high a mountain to climb right now. even without getting into statistical probabilities, we're at the top of the Big 12 and have played exactly one team that could have beaten us. The really big hurdles on our schedule are still out there, like proverbial hairy monsters hiding under the bed. Ask me again, when (IF) we get past TCU.
TB: If we're saying "on top" as in "outright champion" or "tied but wins tiebreaker," then it's pretty low. Probably 25, at best. If we're saying "on top" as in "at least tied for the best record in Big 12 play," I'm actually quite a bit more confident. Go with 65 on that one.
Kitchen: My friend, Blutarsky, his face shows what I'm thinking about your all's lack of faith:
It wasn't over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, and it isn't over now! The schedule doesn't look extremely friendly, but that's what upperclassmen are for. K-State doesn't have the runaway best talent, but that's what a Bill Snyder is for. It looks like K-State is at a disadvantage in some places on paper, but thankfully, football fields aren't made out of paper. Basically, I'm saying, "yeah, but those teams have to play K-State as much as K-State has to play them."
I'm not putting anything past this team -- especially when the Big 12 has shown already this year that the gaps we thought existed between the top and bottom are much smaller than we first believed. My optimistic belief score: '89, for no other reason than that was the year belief began in Manhattan.
Ryan Mueller was just named to the Lott Impact Trophy quarterfinalist list. How would you grade out his season so far?
(Photo: Scott Sewell, USA Today)
Jon: Ah, he's been fine in the face of extra attention from opposing linemen. I can't give him an A, though, because to get there we'd have to have some evidence that the added attention was making stars of the other defensive linemen. It's not.
00: I think it's been a B season so far. He's just ok. I think the things that made him a notice-worthy player last year are still in evidence (great motor, good discipline), but other teams are keying on to him now, and the things that made him a lightly-recruited player (not fast enough to the edge, not great in traffic) are just as much in evidence.
TB: He's doing what's asked of him and doing it as effectively as he can, so I'd give him a pretty high grade. The output doesn't justify an "impact trophy" recognition, but that's alright. Our defensive line is geared around keeping the linebackers free to make plays, not to make plays themselves.
Kitchen: It's been kind of strange to watch Mueller this season. Early on, I think a ton of attention was paid to him. I think that's diminished some because I've noticed, as 00 mentioned, Mueller in the backfield. But, the thing is he's not finishing like he did a year ago. I can remember at least three or four times where I thought a sack or TFL was a foregone conclusion, and then ... nothing. Somehow, both QBs and RBs are evading him, and I'm not sure why.
If it was a talent thing, I don't think he'd be there in the first place. It's almost like he's trying too hard to tackle instead of just making plays when they are in front of him. I realize that all sounds weird, but like I said, the whole thing is a head-turner to me.
As for the Texas Longhorns, what concerns you about this opponent?
Jon: At this point, not much. They can't score on good defenses, and they let Iowa State pile up 45 on 'em. If this seemed to be an absolute fluke, I'd buy into it, but it's not. The real fluke was keeping Oklahoma mostly in check. UCLA: not that good. Baylor: in Austin, not Waco.
00: I am forever concerned by speed and discipline on defense. That said, I think our offensive packages present a unique problem for most defenses. As noted here by Scipio Tex, on the downs that matter, K-State's offense has been in the upper quartile of the FBS. I'm vaguely impressed by the progress Swoopes and the Longhorns offense have made in the past few weeks, and the K-State pass rush leaves something to be desired. But Texas hasn't been consistent against great defenses, so I'm optimistic.
TB: Wickline has substantially improved this Texas offensive line, and Swoopes has made progress in the last two weeks. He's not getting rattled by the slightest little pass rush, and he has a strong arm. They may be able to score just enough points to hang in this one if their defense reverts to non-Iowa State form.
Kitchen: We'll find out early if this team is truly on an upswing, even if it's a little one. Snyder is the grandmaster poobah at finding weaknesses while neutralizing strengths. If Malcolm Brown is the reason Texas has been pretty stout up front, I think Snyder won't have much trouble finding ways to stymie a single defensive lineman and give Jake Waters plenty of time to make consistent effective reads. On the other side, a young QB against a fundamental, flll-your-role defense? Yes, please. Not to say that means a complete shutdown of Swoopes, but I like the chances that the youngster makes a few costly mistakes because he gets impatient.
As for Bo Pelini's take on the SEC and ESPN relationship being bad for college football, did you find yourself agreeing with him (and then taking bleach and a steel wool pad to your skin?)?
Jon: I agree with him, and I'm not even ashamed of it. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, after all. ESPN has too many fingers in too many pies: they're a news source, they're a game broadcaster, they're a network manager, they're a bowl owner, they even get involved in determining sponsorship deals for bowls they don't own. And then they act like they're impartial? Please.
00: I happen to agree with him (and well, I'm coming around on Pelini generally. More on that if I ever get drunk with you reprobates, lol). But it's also a bit hypocritical for the coach at Nebraska, or any Big Ten school for that matter, to complain about ESPN and its negative impact on college football. That conference benefitted enormously from a cozy relationship with ESPN through the 90s and most of the 2000s. It's probably not a total coincidence that the the perceived drop-off in Big Ten football coincides approximately with the rise of the Big Ten Network (and its parent, Fox Sports).
TB: He's right, and Jon's right.
Kitchen: How could you not agree with Pelini? I didn't expect the speech to come from this particular source, and I'm not even sure it makes an impact long-term, but hey, at least it's out there. I just wonder how many texts he got from other coaches who said "glad you said it
because I want to work there as an analyst someday after I get fired."