I watched three games last Saturday.
- Kansas State vs Texas Tech
- Clemson vs Pitt
- Purdue vs Wisconsin
K-State was the only team I write about that managed to win. When comparing the three, the one thing that stood out with the Wildcats was their ability to do hard things (in terms of college football), well.
I’m optimistic about the future of Wildcat football under Chris Klieman, because of his ability (in conjunction with Coach Riley) to put together a quality offensive line. That’s one of the hardest thing to in college football. They consistently find and develop offensive linemen, and then turn those individual linemen into a cohesive unit. Most (if not all) teams capable of fielding a consistently good offensive line also field consistently winning teams.
As a Clemson grad, this season is disappointing, but not shocking. Anyone who has paid attention to the Tiger’s offensive line over the last two years were concerned heading into the season. Last season, Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne papered over some gaping holes in the Clemson offensive line. It required Etienne to transition from a lead back to a wide receiver who lines up in the backfield. It required Lawrence to make a handful of otherworldly plays, on his talent alone, every game. Without two elite, veteran, skill players, the putrid offensive line is on full display in 2021. Clemson has 4* offensive line talent, but can’t figure out how to translate stars into production. It’s a frustrating mess and I’m not sure Clemson has solutions, despite having a talented (on paper) offensive line roster. They’ll continue to throw talent at the problem and hope it works out. They’re giving me big “post Jimbo” Florida State vibes at the moment.
As a brainwashed Boilermaker (thanks Dad), I’ve watched some of the worst offensive line play in college football on a weekly basis. What they lack in run blocking...they also lack in pass blocking. I have no idea what Purdue’s offense is supposed to look like because they can’t block well enough to pull off whatever Jeff Brohm is attempting. It’s hard to be an “offensive savant” when you can’t run the ball, and can’t throw the ball deep because your line can’t block. They recruit on a similar level (if not a notch above) K-State, but in five years under Brohm, his five best offensive linemen consist of three Darrell Hazell (the previous inept coach) holdovers and two transfers. On Saturday they totaled -13 yards rushing, when you throw in sack yardage. Their lead back averaged 2.2 yards on 9 carries. It’s a frustrating mess, and it’s going to eventually cost Brohm his job, because the problem continues to get worse, not better.
If Clemson had K-State’s offensive line, at worst they would be a one-loss team, and firmly in contention for the CFP. If Purdue had K-State’s offensive line, they would be contending for their division instead of fighting it out for the right to play in a low budget bowl game in mid December. Recruiting offensive linemen is the biggest roll of the dice in college athletics. You occasionally get an instant impact guy that looks like an NFL player at 18, but those guys are few and far between and snapped up by the blueblood (fingers crossed Clemson nabs one or two this cycle). Yet, the Wildcats consistently find overlooked recruits and turn them into human road graders. I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve seen enough offensive line turn over at K-State over the last three seasons to confidently say they will continue to conjure offensive linemen out of thin air (or wheat fields...is that the key?).
K-State has the foundation of a good team. They need to surround that foundation with better skill players. I would much rather be in that position than to be where Purdue is at the moment. They’re a team with great skill players without the offensive line to make it work. Clemson can get away with having an average line most years with their immense talent at the skill positions, but all it takes is a couple injuries or missed evaluations to end up at 4-3 with a enough 4* and 5* skill players for two teams.
The Wildcats are well positioned moving forward in the new Big 12 under Klieman. Finding a post Skylar Thompson quarterback is the biggest hurdle, but he’s shown an uncanny ability to find NFL-level quarterbacks during his coaching tenure. The easiest position group to find impact transfers and under-valued stars is wide receiver. We’ve already seen what he can do at running back and tight end with recruiting and the transfer portal. His team is sitting at 4-3 in 2021, and I’ve got the floor set at 6 regular season wins and the ceiling at 8 regular season wins in year three. If he sticks around long enough to see this out, I think you’ll regularly see a K-State team with an 8-win floor in the near future.
Patience friends, patience. This thing is closer to clicking than most people think.