The stock on Kansas State seems to be slipping. The secret's out, and the close wins in 2011 -- eight of them, to be exact -- are under the microscope.
A top-10 team? Cue the laughs. A Big 12 title contender? Newcomer West Virginia is earning more buzz, even though it loses most of its front seven, and K-State, which topped WVU's regular-season win total in 2011 and played in a much tougher league, returns 18 starters and almost no key contributors.
Just how good was this team? The more relevant question: Just how good is this team?
Colleague Travis Haney took notice of a relatively silent spring in Manhattan, and assessed K-State's chances to make noise in the fall.
But in a season in which there is no clear-cut favorite, how can Kansas State be summarily dismissed? ...
Quarterback Collin Klein, the 6-5, 230-pound boulder who wound up receiving a few votes for the Heisman, accounted for 40 of the team's 65 touchdowns (61.5 percent) and 3,059 of its 4,381 yards (69.8 percent). "You knew he was all they had (offensively), but you still had to tackle him," one Big 12 head coach said this spring, his defensive coordinator nodding beside him.
After 27 rushing scores, and the book on him clearly available, surely Klein will need to throw more this fall. There was an obvious emphasis on the forward pass in the team's spring game. Klein flourished, completing 47 of 56 throws for 480 yards and six touchdowns. That speaks well for K-State improving its 4.9 yards-per-play average, 106th in the country in 2011.
After giving up 394.6 yards a game last season, and the spring game perhaps highlighting work to do this summer, the defense will need to tighten up, even if it does have future pro talents like Arthur Brown at linebacker and Nigel Malone at corner. In their first years after transferring in, Brown had a team-high 101 tackles and Malone was tied for fourth in the country with seven interceptions.
Tightening up is needed, indeed. In the Big 12, though, you really do have to grade on a curve when it comes to passing defense. K-State ranked sixth in the league in pass defense, but was second in the league with 18 interceptions; second, of course, to only Oklahoma State's absurd 24 picks.
K-State is the team that makes my head spin most entering 2012. I have no idea what to expect. My gut says it'll be better and its record worse.
This is a Bill Snyder team we're talking about, and a team full of experienced players who know how to win and what's expected of them. If you don't know by now, you should: that's very, very dangerous.