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What if K-State Hadn't Hired Bill Snyder? Also, New Jersey and NESCAC previews

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May as well ask "What if you stopped breathing?"

Bow down.
Bow down.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Lead

The other day, wildcat00 asked me what I thought things would be like in Manhattan if K-State hadn't hired Bill Snyder in 1988. I immediately broke down in tears, unable to function for about three hours.

The first step to answering this question is to figure out who else K-State was pursuing at the time, and really all we know comes from a Bob Hentzen column in the Capital-Journal right after Snyder was hired. The list is not overwhelming. It's not even underwhelming. I'm not sure it's whelming at all:

  • Ron Dickerson, a former Wildcat cornerback who was, at the time, the DB coach at Penn State. Five years later, Dickerson took over as the head coach at Temple; after five years there he spent two seasons at FCS Alabama State, then one year at NAIA Lambuth (which went and closed on him). His career record was 15-62. Ugh.
  • Bill Thornton, and for the life of me I can't uncover which Bill Thornton this was. That probably says enough in and of itself. (It may have been Bill "Thunder" Thornton, former Nebraska FB and LB, who had stints as an assistant at Nebraska and Missouri. Or it could have been former Southwest Texas State and TCU offensive coordinator Bill Thornton, who got out of coaching and joined the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in 1989.)
  • Milan Vooletich, at the time the defensive coordinator at Navy. He never held a head coaching position, although he did end up at Iowa in 1990 as part of the wave of replacements for all the coaches Snyder himself stole. By some accounts, Hayden Fry eventually regretted the hire, although Vooletich was given much of the credit for Iowa's 1990 Big Ten title.
  • Charlie Bailey, who was just months away from resigning from Memphis State amid a booster scandal. He later coached UTEP for six years. His career record: 31-73-2. No.
  • Jack Bicknell, head coach at Boston College. Two years later, he left the Eagles to coach the Barcelona Dragons in the new WLAF, later NFL Europe. Steve Miller considered him "too Eastern", and Bicknell withdrew on his own anyway.
  • Finally, John Fox. At the time, Fox was the defensive coordinator at Pitt under Mike Gottfried, who Fox had rejoined in Pittsburgh after working for him at Kansas. Gottfried's job was in jeopardy, so Fox was looking for an out. Passed over by K-State, Fox became the DB coach for the Steelers, eventually becoming the head coach for the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and now the Chicago Bears. Fox has won two conference championships in the NFL, and even with that his resume probably still doesn't measure up to Bill Snyder's.

Steve Miller made one of the most prescient decisions a college athletic director has ever made. Any of the assistant coaches who'd applied for the position -- with the possible exception of Fox, who we can't really judge because being a head coach in the NFL and in college isn't exactly the same thing -- would have been abject disasters, and K-State would have continued to wallow in miserable failure.

It's been reported by several people that the idea that K-State was on the verge of being thrown out of the Big 12 was more of a scare tactic than actual reality, although other sources firmly state that Arkansas was in line to step in and replace the Wildcats before instead joining the SEC. But even if K-State's future in the Big Eight wasn't in danger, it's almost impossible to argue that the Wildcats would have been included in the new Big 12 when that came about. We may, instead, have seen Houston joining the league rather than joining Conference USA.

And we almost definitely would have seen K-State do one of two things: join the WAC, in turn probably displacing Tulsa, or replacing Tulsa in the Missouri Valley... and either dropping football or joining the Gateway as an FCS program. And K-State's arch-rival, now, would be Missouri State.

Now aren't you glad Bill Snyder wanted the job, and Steve Miller was impressed by him?

New Jersey Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION NJAC OVERALL
rv Rowan University Profs Glassboro NJ 6-1 7-4
SUNY at Morrisville Mustangs Morrisville NY 6-1 9-2
rv Montclair State University Red Hawks Montclair NJ 6-1 8-2
SUNY at Cortland Red Dragons Cortland NY 4-3 5-5
William Paterson University Pioneers Wayne NJ 2-5 4-6
Kean University Cougars Union NJ 2-5 2-9
College of New Jersey Lions Ewing NJ 1-6 2-8
Southern Virginia University Knights Buena Vista VA 1-6 1-9

The NJAC is the most-changed conference in college football this season. Gone to the Empire 8 are Cortland State and co-champ Morrisville State. But the league grows from eight to ten. Two Maryland schools join from the Empire 8: the Salisbury University Sea Gulls and Frostburg State University Bobcats. The Christopher Newport University Captains from Newport News, Va., join from the USA South. And from the independent ranks come the Wesley College Wolverines from Dover, Del. The move creates a clean alignment; all five schools which are not all-sports members of the NJAC are members of the non-football Capital Athletic Conference.

The losses are not insignificant, but pale in comparison to the additions. Wesley is not just a perennial playoff team, they're a perennial top-five team, and finished last season ranked fifth. Salisbury is a more-than-frequent playoff participant, and Newport was the bully on the USA South block; both received votes in last year's final poll. The NJAC, in one fell swoop, has become the uncontested strongest conference in the East, and will challenge the Empire 8, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin conferences for national supremacy.

Wesley (DE) did their usual thing, rampaging across Division III. They did lose to North Carolina-Charlotte to end the regular season, who of course was technically an FCS team last year. After that they roared to the semifinals, outscoring their playoff opponents 152-20, before running into Mount Union. That the Purple Raiders won that game 70-21 is more of a reflection on Mount Union than on Wesley.

Head coach Mike Drass took over the program in 1993, and when the Wolverines open the season on September 12 at Frostburg State he will almost certainly pick up his 200th career win against 54 losses. Drass will have to contend with the loss of a raft of All-American talent, as first-team LB Sosthene Kapepula, second-team DT Payton Rose and DE Aamir Petrose, and honorable mention WR Steve Koudoussou have graduated. But preseason All-American QB selection Joe Callahan returns along with RB Jamar Baynard, TE Kyle George, and OL Casey Ergenzinger. Wesley is expected to roll in their first year in the league; the Wolverines received all nine of the other coaches' votes for first place in the NJAC preseason poll.

Rowan picked up the other first-place vote on the heels of their co-championship and automatic bid last season. 2014 actually represented regression overall, although the Profs compiled their third-straight 6-1 conference record. Rowan returns NJAC first-teamers RB Withier Marcelin (an honorable mention All-American), LB Darren Dungee, CB Eddie Davis, and K Tyler Knighton, but lose a pair of first-team offensive linemen and three selections on the defensive side of the ball. A pair of second-teamers, Jared Sanchez and Rashad Adams, return to the Profs' secondary as well, so that unit should be elite.

Salisbury has been picked third in their first go-round in the conference. The Sea Gulls have been a fairly consistent playoff challenger over the last dozen years, and return first-team All-Empire 8 KR Ryan Kolb, OL Kevin Perretta, and LB James Hall -- as well as honorable mention All-American P Kyle Hamby.

Montclair State is led by head coach Rick Giancola, the winningest active coach in Division III with 226 career victories. The Red Hawks, who peaked in 2009-10 with a pair of ten-win seasons, rebounded from their worst year this century to claim a share of the conference title. Third-team All-American S Eric Gargulo returns along with fellow NJAC first-team selections RB Denzel Nieves, OL Rualdhri Walsh, and LB Michael Klimek; the Red Hawks also return senior QB Ryan Davies and LB Joshua Betts, the conference's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Gone are NJAC Defensive Player of the Year CB C.J. Conway and Special Teams Player of the Year P Joe Janovic.

Christopher Newport has never had a losing season, although they didn't start playing football until 2001 when they started off by winning a share of the USA South Conference title and a playoff bid. In the 14 years of the program, the Captains have only missed the post-season four times, winning 10 USA South crowns including last year. And they're picked to finish fifth here, which just illustrates how strong this conference has become with expansion. Three USAC first-teamers return in C Scott Fahey, DB Cameron Barlow, and LB Allen Hayes.

Frostburg State has floundered since winning a pair of Atlantic Central Football Conference titles in 2002-03, and even then haven't won eight games since their final season as an independent in 1999. But while they're picked sixth in the NJAC, they were also tabbed as the darkhorse by a plurality of conference coaches. Last year marked a three-game improvement under first-year head coach DeLane Fitzgerald, and the Bobcats return three Empire 8 first-teamers: DL William Sewell, LB Rowan Pinkett, and DB Salaman Riddell.

Kean won nine games in 2009 and ten in 2011 -- a year which ended in a crazy overtime playoff loss to Salisbury. But they've cratered since, posting consecutive 2-win seasons. There is talent returning, however, as first-team FB Jashon Moore, DL Nick Gjoni, and KR Damiam Corredor will be back. But four second-team selections, as well as first-team OL Darrin Love, have graduated.

William Paterson has not had a winning record in the 21st century, although the Pioneers have finished 5-5 four times. First-team WR Anthony DiMarsico returns, along with second-team RB Matt Delana and OL Jalen Haynes and Offensive Rookie of the Year QB Austin Fellows.

New Jersey had generally been a .500 squad since 2000, but fell hard last year. They're not expected to improve much this year, having lost their only first-team selection from last year, TE Ryan Baranowsky and a trio of second-teamers. RB Khani Glover, who received honorable mention last year as a freshman, returns along with LB Sean Kley.

Southern Virginia was 8-2 in their first season as a Division III member in 2013. Then they joined the NJAC and struggled to a 1-9 finish. Second-team WR Kyler Harris and P Mackey Smith return, as does TE Michael Carroll, the conference's other freshman honorable mention honoree last season. The Knights, representing the only Mormon school in the east, have a fight to get out of the cellar.

Game of the year: It's an open question as to whether even Rowan can challenge Wesley for the conference title. We'll find out on October 24 when the Profs travel to Dover.

New England Small College Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION NESCAC
rv Amherst College Lord Jeffs Amherst MA 8-0
Wesleyan University Cardinals Middletown CT 7-1
Middlebury College Panthers Middlebury VT 6-2
Trinity College Bantams Hartford CT 5-3
Bates College Bobcats Lewiston ME 4-4
Tufts University Jumbos Medford MA 4-4
Bowdoin College Polar Bears Lewiston ME 2-6
Colby College White Mules Waterville ME 2-6
Williams College Ephs Williamstown MA 2-6
Hamilton College Continentals Clinton NY 0-8

To call the NESCAC the Ivy League of Division III would understate the NESCAC's attitude toward college football. The league eschews non-conference play entirely, and restricts members to an eight-game schedule despite having a ten-team conference. This is despite being one of the best conferences in the nation at most other sports; the rationale is that college football, specifically, requires so many athletes that the urge to compete will lead to more admissions which are below the norm. Some call it noble, others call it snobby, but it is what it is.

As a result, the NESCAC is almost Division IIIa; it is the only four-year college football league in the nation with absolutely zero interconnectivity with the rest of the college football world.

Amherst beat everyone but Hamilton last year, extending a run of winning seasons to seven. It was a senior-led squad, with six first-team selections graduating. The seventh, DB Jaymie Spears, returns along with second-teamers RB Nick Kelly and DL Paul Johnson.

Wesleyan (CT) lost seven first-team honorees and four from the second team. The losses include the league's co-Offensive Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year, QB Jesse Warren and DB Jake Bussani. First-team RB Lou Stevens returns with LB Alex Daversa-Russo and DB Justin Sanchez from the second squad, but those losses are brutal. Wesleyan is probably going to slide back in 2015 after two straight 7-1 seasons. Michael Whalen, a Wesleyan alum who took over the head coaching reins in 2010, has stepped aside to focus on the AD job; Dan DiCenzo, Whalen's defensive coordinator, takes over to try and rebuild.

Middlebury has been either average or good forever. They regressed slightly last year following a pair of 7-1 seasons, but return two of their four first-team selections: co-Offensive Player of the Year QB Matt Milano and WR Matthew Minno. That should be enough to push the Panthers back ahead of Wesleyan -- and maybe even Amherst.

Trinity (CT) had gone 6-2 or better every year since 2002, a run which included five 8-0 campaigns, before sliding back to 5-3 last season. Five first-teamers and three seconds have graduated; first-team P Kyle Pulek and DL Lyle Baker return along with second-teamer OL Matthew Porter and Rookie of the Year OL Chris Simmons. The Bantams may not return to the six-win plateau next year, but don't appear doomed to collapse either.

Bates did not win more than three games in a year from 2000-2011. In 2012, the Bobcats leapt to 5-3, but have clung to .500 the last two years. First-team WR Mark Riley and LB Mark Upton return, and the only honored loss was second-team punter David Kurey. In other words, as far as top-notch talent goes, Bates lost a lot less than anyone above them. A winning season is a wholly reasonable expectation.

Tufts entered 2014 on a 31-game losing streak dating back to a season-opening win over Hamilton in 2010. In that lens, last year was like winning the Super Bowl. The Jumbos accomplished this with only three all-conference honorees -- first-team KR Zack Trause and second-teamers DL Jimmy Brao and LB Tommy Meade, all of whom graduated. So what's it all mean? Alex Snyder saw about 40% of the action at QB as a sophomore. RB Chance Brady led the team in rushing, again as a sophomore. WR Ben Berey led the team in receptions and receiving yards... you guessed it, as a sophomore. The team's second-leading tackler, DB Mike Stearns? Yeah, he was a sophomore too. (Leading tackler LB Matt McCormack also returns, but he was a junior last year.) In other words: watch out. Not only might Tufts actually win the league, they might repeat in 2016.

Bowdoin had a coaching change, as Dave Caputi announced his resignation in mid-October after 15 years in Brunswick. The Polar Bears were 2-2 at that time, with the losses to Amherst and (normally) tough Williams, so it was more of a life decision than a performance decision. That said, Bowdoin lost all six games after his announcement and still haven't posted a winning campaign since 2005 -- and even that was an outlier. J.B. Wells takes over, which could be big news as Wells had previously been the only head coach ever at Endicott College, a school which made NCAA playoff appearances in 2010 and 2013 with a pair of ECAC Bowl appearances in between. Wells will have both of Bowdoin's All-NESCAC honorees from last year to work with, second-team RB Tyler Grant and OL Matthew Netto. Expect improvement.

Colby didn't have a losing season from 2000-2005, going 7-1 twice. They haven't had a winning season since, although they've yet to sink any further into the mud than last year's result. All three second-team honorees last season were seniors, so they're somewhat a blank slate, and shouldn't be expected to improve.

Williams is reeling from consecutive 2-6 seasons. Those followed 5-3 and 4-4 finishes in 2011-12, and that was considered disastrous; the Ephs had not failed to win six games since 2000. DB Tom Cabarle was the only first-team selection; he's graduated, as has second-team OL Alan Felix, and no honorees return. It's hard to imagine the skid continuing, but there's nothing here to indicate otherwise.

Hamilton has lost 20 straight games, and the only player of note on last year's roster was first-team OL Nick Noonan, who's graduated. The Continentals are probably in for another year of agony.

Game of the year: With the turnover at the top of the league, we're going to cast our eyes at a game which might be key toward sorting out a new power structure in the conference: October 24, Middlebury visits Bates. It may be meaningless; maybe Amherst and Wesleyan and Trinity still rule the roost. But these are the only two teams who, on paper, look like they're actually in position to leap forward.

Tomorrow

We'll find something strange to talk about, and also dig into the New England Football Conference and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.