Bill Snyder might never have accomplished more with a team than he did by taking Kansas State within a game of the Big 12 North division title this season.
The Wildcats entered the season with serious questions at quarterback and running back. Snyder plugged in South Florida transfer Grant Gregory at quarterback and converted Northwest Mississippi Community College quarterback Daniel Thomas into a power-running tailback. Both arrived in July, only a few days before spring practice started, but emerged as key players in a 6-6 season.
But Snyder, who returned to coaching after a three-season sabbatical, cobbled together a team that had legitimate North Division championship hopes until a late-season tailspin doomed them.
The Wildcats started the season with a 2-2 nonconference record that included road losses to UCLA and Louisiana-Lafayette.
But they returned to claim a tight 24-23 victory over Iowa State that was settled on a blocked extra point. And Snyder’s resilient bunch bounced back from a 52-point loss at Texas Tech to notch a 48-point victory over Texas A&M.
Kick returner/receiver Brandon Banks developed into KSU’s prime offensive playmaker and tied the Big 12 career record for kickoff returns for touchdowns. But when he wasn't involved the offense lagged miserably.
The Wildcats’ defense ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin and rushing. But Snyder couldn’t overcome his sputtering offense against the best opponents. Among KSU’s six victories, only Tennessee Tech had a winning record.
Offensive MVP: RB Daniel Thomas
Thomas was projected as a quarterback by most scouting services when he arrived at Kansas State. But after switching to running back, he emerged as the Wildcats’ most consistent offensive threat and the focal point of the Wildcats’ offense. Thomas led the league with 1,265 rushing yards, 247 attempts, 11 rushing touchdowns and 105.4 yards per game, accounting for more than 100 rushing yards in five different games.
Defensive MVP: S Tysyn Hartman
The sophomore safety was KSU’s catalyst in the secondary with a team-leading five interceptions, 54 tackles and six pass deflections. His importance could be seen when he was injured early in the third quarter against Nebraska. While Hartman was being treated along the sidelines, Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee took advantage of the weak middle of the Wildcats’ defense on a two-play scoring drive that clinched the game and ended the Wildcats’ bowl and title game hopes.
Turning point: Nov. 14 vs. Missouri
The Wildcats returned home in first place in the North Division with two games remaining. Instead, offensive woes bit them in a 38-12 loss to Missouri in which they only scored four field goals. It got worse the following week in a 17-3 season-ending loss to Nebraska where the lingering offensive slump kept the Wildcats from making either a championship game or a bowl appearance.
The lack of bowl practice is a critical loss for Snyder, who is using the time away from game preparations to scour the nation for junior college players. Prime producers like Banks, Gregory, tight end Jeron Mastrud, tackle Nick Stringer and defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald all will depart the program. Snyder is excited about the possibilities of Oregon transfer Chris Harper to challenge Carson Coffman at quarterback. But he needs more talent -- particularly offensively -- to narrow the gap with teams like Nebraska and Missouri.