Now that the 2016 K-State football season is officially in the books, we can take time to reflect on the season – and that’s exactly what wildcat00, JT VanGilder, Gracey Terrill, Greg Woods, Jon Morse, KSUEMAW!, and I did. Here is an edited transcript of our discussion on Slack.
AMS: What were your expectations heading into the season, and what surprised you this year?
Jon Morse: I was sort of expecting a 7-6, 8-5 kind of year, largely because I was so, so nervous about the offense. The effectiveness of said offense despite a lack of a coherent passing game? That was a surprise.
Greg Woods: In terms of expectations, I was sort of torn. I knew K-State touted quite the experience, but I wasn't sure if that would make up for the question mark at quarterback (which ended up being far from a question mark) and the hostile stadiums that beckoned.
But those hostile stadiums were home to teams that collapsed -- Baylor and TCU, to be specific, and West Virginia had a solid season, but K-State was really close to a road victory there, too.
Gracey Terrill: I was expecting a 6-6 season, mainly because I didn't know how to feel about Jesse Ertz coming back and other viable options at QB. That being said, Ertz is incredibly tough and I'm very glad he was not out for any longer than he needed to recover and get back into the game. Our defense is what surprised me the most, was not expecting them to be so dominating and shut down opponents so easily. There seemed to be so many standouts on defense that were also phenomenal playmakers. I know Willis was a "player to watch" on the preseason lists but had no idea he was going to be SUCH a huge influence on defense.
AMS: Yeah, Jon, that's pretty much what I was thinking. Somewhere around a 7-5 regular season. I just felt like we were in for a "just OK" season.
JT VanGilder: I was expecting 8-5, based on what was returning. We knew the defense had all the pieces, but I wasn't sold on the offense.
Wildcat00: Honestly, I thought we'd win 8 games. I just picked the wrong games. I thought the defense would be worse than it turned out to be.
Greg: The defense was the shocker for me. Blew my expectations away.
JT: See I thought the defense underperformed based on my expectations, especially the secondary. I was expecting too much from Barnett I think.
Greg: Yeah, even Barnett didn't have the season he was hoping for.
His words, not mine.
JT: But the front seven played as well or better than expected.
Even with my lofty expectations.
AMS: Yeah, Barnett and Duke Shelley fell short of expectations, at least at times. They weren't defensive liabilities, but they weren't as good as we had come to expect.
00: I didn't know if Barnett would make an impact after missing nearly a whole season, but I didn't expect Willis and Walker to come along as they did.
Also, the O-line far exceeded my expectations.
JT: Trey Dishon will be a first-team all-Big 12 guy by the time he's done.
O-line was the biggest surprise for me.
I was so worried about all the shuffling, moving Risner to tackle, and ALL THE YOUTH.
Morse: Now, see, I was utterly unsurprised by the offensive line.
JT: Charlie Dickey deserves a pay raise
Greg: Really? I thought Dalton Risner had a vastly better second season.
Morse: There were actual recruits on that line. It wasn't a collection of walk-ons.
And when you give K-State actual beef on the offensive line, you have eventual NFL talent.
JT: That's what I mean, Greg, I was worried, and things were WAY better than I expected.
00: I just figured there was too much inexperience on the line, and with a new QB, I thought the o-line would be underwhelming. But Scott Frantz and Abdul Beecham were surprisingly good.
JT: Frantz may well end up as a 1st rounder.
00: Dayum Charlie Dickey!
And really, five guys with starts return next year. That gets me super excited.
KSUEMAW!: I'm glad the O-line is getting the credit they deserve. I think they were the biggest reason the running game was as good as it was. The running back by committee with four to five dudes was interesting. And wouldn't have been successful without this O-line.
JT: And Thompson will have three guys with two or more years of starts the next year
EMAW: What was my biggest surprise from the team this year? I think mine was the growth of Jesse Ertz throughout the season.
And the fantastic play of D.J. Reed.
JT: D.J. Reed was the biggest surprise to me. Started big and got better all year. Didn't even see him coming.
AMS: So, what grade do you give the 2016 Wildcats, and why?
Morse: B+. Points off for the secondary's periodic mishaps, some strange decisions which cost them two games, and the sketchiness of the pass game.
AMS: Man, you're an easy grader if all that still gets a B+.
JT: Players A-, in-game coaching C+, season coaching A.
EMAW: 89 out of 100. They needed to get the wins at West Virginia and at home against Okie Light to push it to a 94. If they don't get the bowl win then it's a 75. They showed so much promise and improvement in the bowl game over what we'd seen all season that it warrants that much of a grade jump.
I see the bowl game as your college final and they scored there.
00: I think a B+ is about right. In particular, I think the trajectory of the season has been steadily upwards since the halfway mark. In fact, I'd give the back half of the season an A.
JT: Yeah, back-half of the season grades WAY better than the front half. That's the kind of trajectory you expect from a Bill Snyder team.
AMS: This season went past my expectations, with an excellent ensemble cast and star-making roles for Jesse Ertz and Jordan Willis. The direction was a little questionable at times, but on the whole it was a great watch for the whole family. I rate it 4 stars out of 5.
Greg: I agree, B+. The secondary was shaky at times, and these guys let a couple close games slip away.
AMS: It's so weird to think this year could have easily been a 10-3 season.
With just a couple more made plays.
Or different play calls.
EMAW: Shit. This year could have been an 11-2 year.
JT: A couple plays from being 12-1
Greg: Right, and I think that's the key to next season. These guys could have finished 10-3 (or better) this year -- imagine NEXT season. Forgot the exact number, but there's a plethora of starters returning.
AMS: Yeah, this really felt like the season before The Season. Kind of like that 2011 Collin Klein team, except with a couple of those close games going the wrong way.
JT: What are your way-too-early expectations for 2017?
Greg: They have to be sky-high. We all know K-State's rep for improving quarterbacks in their second season -- look at Collin Klein and Jake Waters' second seasons. Not only that, but you have a lot of key pieces of both the offense and defense returning.
JT: This team is built like 2012. I see a Big 12 title or bust season. This will be Snyder's last best good shot at a title and maybe more.
Morse: Yeah, this has to be a run for it. I mean, things are also set up nicely for 2018, which is actually a pretty important factor, but to get there you gotta get through 2017 first.
AMS: It's really hard for me to say Big 12 title or bust is the expectation, but I expect we'll be in the Big 12 title hunt.
EMAW: I think competing to a big 12 title is reasonable. I wouldn't say we have to win it or the season is a failure. If they win the title in 2017 I think you have to consider it a phenomenal season.
Greg: Especially because Baylor, TCU, OU and West Virginia are all coming to Manhattan.
EMAW: I'd love to see them challenge OU (and beat OU at home) for the title and play and win in a January bowl.
And realistically I think that's possible.
JT: The stars align so perfectly next year. Could even be Snyder's final if he gets one more title.
Morse: Things don't happen in a vacuum, and Oklahoma is still riding high as well. I think it's a two-horse race, being honest.
JT: Yeah, we're gonna see a K-State/OU rematch for the title.
AMS: Oh, that's right. Big 12 title game next year, just in time to screw K-State.
Morse: Or give them a second chance, if they're 11-1!
JT: I don't mean if we don't get the title that the season is a failure, but rather that the title is the goal, if we aren't at least in the title game I think we can call that disappointing.
EMAW: I think you'll see Okie light challenging again.
Morse: In fact, if I had to choose between being 12-0 and losing to Oklahoma in December, and being 11-1 and beating them in December, the choice is obvious.
JT: Jon's scenario seems more right. Lose close in Manhattan in October, beat OU in Dallas in December as they dream about the CFP.
Could see two Big 12 teams in the CFP in that scenario.
AMS: And OU still gets into the playoff, while K-State gets left out. Pure poetry.
EMAW: Sounds about right.
JT: Bill Snyder's story is too good to get left out now. Could play it up for WEEKS.
EMAW: K-State has to go undefeated to go the the CFP. Period. Even with a split with OU and a Big 12 title they are getting left out.
JT: I'm more optimistic than that. They could get huge ratings with the underdog story. #Content drives ratings too.
Even if we have to play Bama in the first game. Blue Blood versus the world's biggest turnaround, who wouldn't watch that.
Morse: Also, if you pay really close attention to the media last night and today, K-State's actually already getting primed for possible hype.
He'll pretend he's not driven by corporate directives, but Chris Fowler's tweet last night was a sign.
00: I'm not as high on the idea that K-State is a CFP contender next year. But it wouldn't surprise me either.
JT: K-State can easily be played up as "Blue Collar America's Team."
Greg: Yeah, let's not get carried away. The CFP is a big, big deal. Lots of work to do.
EMAW: I'd love to be wrong but I'm pretty jaded against everything CFP. And I don't want my expectations for next season to hinge on that aspect.
00: I think you can't count out OU or Okie St next year. The schedule sets up nicely though.
Also, that rock stupid CCG happens next year.
EMAW: A solid 10-2, 11-1 run with a conference title game appearance and a bowl win makes next season a success. Anything above that is gravy.
00: Yes, what KSUEMAW! just said.
Morse: We got sidetracked with the question of what would happen if a 12-1 K-State won the Big 12.
Greg: If they beat OU in the conference championship game? I'd say a CFP berth.
AMS: Who would you give various superlative awards on the team? MVP, defensive POTY, most improved, etc?
Greg: Oh, man. I'd give Jesse Ertz MVP and most improved, but that seems anticlimactic.
Morse: MVP and DPOTY: Willis. Most improved: Reed, based on his in-season progress.
JT: What Jon said
Morse: OPOTY: Ertz, but only because I'm giving newcomer to Barnes.
JT: Again, what Jon said.
Greg: Barnes was excellent, but he only had the few games, so ...
00: MVP: Willis. He was, IMO, the most dominant player on the K-State defense since Mark Simoneau.
Greg: I retract my earlier statement. Willis gets my MVP vote. In terms of in-season progress, I'd say Ertz or D.J. Reed.
00: Most improved? Probably Ertz, if only because he's so much more in command of his team now than he was against Stanford.
Morse: And Greg has a valid point in re: Barnes, but what he did for the offense once he got the playing time? Wooooof.
00: And make no mistake, this is Ertz's team. The rest of the players seem to be ready to take a bullet for him now.
JT: Barnes offensive freshman of the year.
AMS: Yeah, 00, after last night -- and really even before then -- this is Jesse's team now.
JT: Pringle newcomer.
Dishon defensive freshman.
Reed gets newcomer there.
EMAW: MVP: Willis. As well as DPOY. OPOY is Ertz by default. Most improved is Abdul Beecham. Dude went from backup tackle to starting guard and played phenomenally. Newcomer of the year is D.J. Reed. He was easily our best cover guy by the end of the season.
00: Best player from Manhattan: Terrale Johnson.
Greg: Yeah, Pringle or Barnes for offensive newcomer, but the cake goes to Pringle, since Barnes only had the few games (albeit how insane those games were).
JT: Pringle finished with a bang though
00: Pringle and Barnes next year? Look out!
EMAW: Scott Frantz gets the nod from me for freshman of the year on offense.
Walker on defense.