K-State the surprise team in the Big 12 in 2011
Around the three-quarter poll, and down the stretch they come. That's the point the 2011 Kansas State season has arrived with the final one-quarter of the season – Texas A&M, at Texas and Iowa State – left to be played.
It was three months ago that most K-State fans would have been tickled with a seven-win season, but now here, especially following playing No. 2 Oklahoma State down to the final play of the game, the Wildcat Nation is planning on eight wins, hoping for nine, and not ruling out 10 … and just maybe the Cotton Bowl.
Why and how has it happened? Here are just seven of the reasons K-State, with seven wins and at one time ranked among the Top 10 teams in the nation, is in line for a major bowl game in December/January.
1) Bill Snyder is a legend. With no offense meant toward the Wildcats, but very few would take K-State's talent over that in Miami, or Baylor, or maybe even Missouri or Texas Tech, yet Snyder masterminded a game plan to defeat the Hurricanes, and the Bears, and the Tigers and the Red Raiders.
2) Finding a way was the theme early as the Wildcats came from behind to win four games, which included the season-opening 10-7 contest with Eastern Kentucky. Even today, six Wildcat games have ended by seven points or less, and the ‘Cats are 5-1 in those games. That comes back to coaching … great ones find a way to win.
3) It's a shame that Collin Klein will likely be no more than honorable mention all-Big 12 this year when he deserves so much more. Klein has served as the "Tim Tebow" of K-State with his trademark simply being winning games rather than being the biggest, fastest, strongest.
He has leadership skills, a toughness, and a refusal to lose that is first-team all-Big 12.
His 19 rushing TDs rank second in the nation as does his scoring of 12.7 points per game. Klein is averaging 101 rushing yards per game to rank fourth in the Big 12.
4) Tyler Lockett is on target to give K-State yet another Big 12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award. The son of Kevin Lockett and nephew of Aaron Lockett, Tyler ranks second in the nation in kickoff returns and is the only Wildcat to ever score touchdowns on kickoff returns in consecutive games.
5) While not a great defensive team, K-State has demonstrated play-making ability that has resulted in a turnover-margin of plus-11 that ranks second in the league and eighth nationally. Arthur Brown is the centerpiece of that defense averaging seven-plus tackles himself, but also has chased runners into the awaiting arms of his teammates.
6) Newcomers like Meshak Williams and Nigel Malone are the latest in the line of immediate impact junior college transfers. Williams is among the Big 12 leaders with his six quarterback sacks and nine tackles for negative yards, while Malone has a Big 12-leading six interceptions, plus five other passes broken up.
As a team, K-State's 14 pass interceptions ranks second in the league.
7) K-State's offensive line of B.J. Finney, Colten Freeze, Nick Puetz, Zach Hanson and Clyde Aufner have helped the Wildcats rank first in the nation in time of possession (35:06) and third in the Big 12 in rushing at 217 yards per game. All of this after K-State lost the middle three to last year's o-line, plus two o-linemen were injured in the first two weeks of the season.
GRADING THE SEASON BY QUARTERS:
1st Quarter – B
Having to score 10 fourth-quarter points to defeat Eastern Kentucky in the opener gave fans plenty to worry about, but was followed with an expected smacking of Kent State and then a most impressive last second win at Miami where Collin Klein first stepped forward as did the Wildcat defense.
2nd Quarter – A
K-State took advantage of opening Big 12 play at home with wins over Baylor and Missouri, and followed with a victory at Texas Tech, which was Tyler Lockett's coming out party. The three wins came by a total of 15 points.
3rd Quarter – B
The Wildcats romped and stomped on Kansas, but then were romped on and stomped on by Oklahoma. Showing some moxie, K-State responded by playing the No. 3 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys down to the final play of the game.