We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 10-3 Kansas State Wildcats graded out in 2011.
More report cards:
OFFENSE: Before the season, the outlook for this group looked grim. It was headed by an inexperienced quarterback who'd only thrown a handful of passes, and an unproven transfer named Bryce Brown would be charged with filling the role of NFL-bound workhorse Daniel Thomas.
Or so we thought, anyway. Who knew Collin Klein was a stud that became more of a workhorse than Thomas -- the Big 12 leader in carries and rushing the past two seasons -- ever was?
Well, Bill Snyder probably did. Or at least had a hunch. Klein carried the Wildcats on his back, complete with perpetually bleeding elbows and led the Big 12 in carries, toting the ball 317 times, 67 more than any other ballcarrier in the Big 12. He wasn't the only one. K-State's ground attack also relied on the lightly-recruited John Hubert, a Waco native who filled in for Brown. Brown left the team in midseason after struggling early and carrying the ball just three times, fumbling once. He added 970 yards of his own.
The offensive line was one of the Big 12's best, and the receivers were good enough. This unit, though, revolved around Klein, who turned out better than anyone expected, tying the Big 12 record for rushing touchdowns with 27, and giving way to Heisman hype for 2012.
DEFENSE: Stop me if you've heard this before, but the expectations for this group were ... let's say measured. That's what happens when you give up 3,000 rushing yards in a single season. Only two teams did it this season. Kansas State did it in 2010.
Enter Arthur Brown and Nigel Malone. The Miami transfer/linebacker and junior college transfer/cornerback checked in and gave K-State a much-needed speed boost that helped the rest of the defense look pretty good. Defensive ends Jordan Voelker and Meshak Williams combined for 11 sacks and provided a pass rush that was non-existent in 2010. None of the teams top five sackers in 2010 were defensive ends.
Fellow corner David Garrett had another solid season for the Wildcats, too. The ball-control offense perhaps inflated the defensive numbers, but K-State held its own for 13 games this season against a ton of great offenses. Well done.
OVERALL: This year was one Kansas State won't soon forget. Snyder hates comparing his teams, but admitted at the end of the season this team grew more than just about any he'd ever have. That's pretty obvious.
After a season-opening 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky (let me repeat that: a 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky) I dropped the unimpressive 'Cats all the way to ninth in the Big 12 Power Rankings. They finished the season at No. 2. That's a heck of a season.
Yeah, Kansas State got fortunate in a few spots to win games late. But it won, and the wins as underdogs grew even more impressive by the week. Wins over Miami, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech helped push the Wildcats to a 7-0 start and gave them four consecutive wins as an underdog, despite getting outgained in each game. That's pretty unbelievable.