GIVE THE ‘CATS A B+

MANHATTAN, Kan. - K-State has hit the end of the first quarter to the 2010 season with a spotless 3-0 record. While the play has been anything but glitzy, the fact is the Wildcats have found a way to defeat UCLA, Missouri State and ISU in their first three games. With 8 wins being the preseason prediction here one month ago, here's why K-State will make it, and, perhaps have trouble making it.

In each of the last two Kansas State football games, coach Bill Snyder simply said, "We won."

No, the ‘Cats didn't play letter-perfect football, but yes, they did find a way to get in the victory column. And now with a 3-0 record overall, and a 1-0 mark in the Big 12, K-State is among the also-mentioned in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

In grading the Wildcats for their collective three-game effort, we're giving them a B+ … primarily because of Mr. Daniel Thomas, and, the simple fact that they have done what the game is all about … they've won.

Needing only three more wins in nine tries to become bowl eligible, here's our thinking about how, or why, Kansas State will reach at least eight victories, if not more, in 2010, but also why it might have trouble.

Reason for optimism:

No. 8 … Daniel Thomas. Mel Kiper has the K-State running back ranked No. 2 only behind Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram of Alabama, and as the No. 19 overall pick in next year's NFL draft. With 552 yards, Thomas is off to the best three-game start in K-State history.

In just 15 overall games as a Wildcat, Thomas ranks No. 10 on the all-time rushing chart with eight 100-yard games to his credit.

Reason for concern:

It's not that Thomas can't run it 34 times a game like he did Saturday, the concern is that Thomas "had" to run it 34 times for Kansas State to defeat a team that was the unanimous pick to finish last in the Big 12 North.

Thomas has rushed the ball 83 games this season, which includes not playing at all in the fourth quarter against Missouri State.

Reason for optimism:

K-State has been hit with a couple injuries at offensive tackle, but has mixed and matched five Wildcats who have banded together as one.

With Clyde Aufner and Ethan Douglas injured for much of the early weeks, Zach Hanson and Manase Foketi have stepped up to join guards Kenneth Mayfield and Zach Kendall, plus center Wade Weibert to form a line that has helped produce 260 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the nation.

Reason for concern:

The Wildcats are averaging 150 passing yards per game, which ranks 102nd in the country. The throw-game was non-existent in Saturday's win over Iowa State.

While Carson Coffman is completing 65 percent of his passes, and with a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, his ability to orchestrate a balanced attack with Thomas is iffy at best. Coffman has also been sacked nine times in three games.

Reason for optimism:

Brandon Harold appears to have returned to his 2008 defensive form with 20 tackles, four of which have been for negative yards. Harold has two sacks, one pass broken up, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Harold came up with the defensive play of the game against the Cyclones when he not only forced a fumble, but made the recovery which led to a late-game score.

Reason for concern:

Teams have thrown 96 passes on K-State this year, and the Wildcats have generated only six sacks. The Wildcats have forced an average of less than two turnovers per game, and the ‘Cats defense has allowed 10 drives of at least 50 yards through the first 12 quarters of the season.

Reasons for optimism:

Starring William Powell, K-State ranks 8th in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 31.7 yards; K-State is a perfect 8-of-8 in Red Zone scores; KSU is converting a more than decent 43 percent of its third-down snaps; Ryan Doerr has been a steady punter with a 42.5-yard average with five fair catches and two punts downed inside the 20; Anthony Cantele is averaging placing the ball at the 3-yard-line on kickoffs.

He has seven touchbacks, which is more than K-State had all of last year; K-State has out-scored its opponents 17-0 in the first quarter.

Reasons for concern:

The ‘Cats are averaging just 6.0 yards per punt return, which includes one of 20 yards.

Take away that one, and Tramaine Thompson is averaging just 4.2 yards on the other eight punt take-backs; KSU has scored just four TDs in eight trips into the Red Zone; K-State is allowing better than 23 yards per kickoff returns; backup quarterback Collin Klein has played in just two offensive series this year.

Summation:

Looking at the season the rest of the way:

Probable wins:
North Texas, Colorado, Baylor, Kansas

‘Cats will be underdogs:

Nebraska, Texas

Difference makers:

Central Florida, Oklahoma State and Missouri


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