Most Improved Big 12 Team Through the 1st Half of the Season? Kansas State
This time a year ago, Kansas State was 6-0 and fresh off a win over Iowa State. Five days later, the Wildcats would beat West Virginia 55-14 in Morgantown on their way to an 11-2 season.
Had Baylor not shocked K-State 52-24 in mid-November, the 'Cats may have been playing for a BCS championship.
How things have changed since then. Last Saturday, Baylor and Kansas State met once again, a 35-25 victory for the Bears. This time, the Bears have the undefeated record and national title aspirations, and the Wildcats are just trying to make it to a bowl game.
The loss to Baylor put K-State at 2-4 and 0-3 in Big 12 conference play—not what fans in Manhattan have become accustomed to lately. Even in the forgettable three years under Ron Prince, K-State never started the first six games of a season like this. In fact, you have to go back to 2004, when Bill Snyder was in his first run as K-State's head coach, to get those records.
(For what it's worth, Kansas State finished 4-7 that season.)
KSU's tough start caught the attention of Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde, who named Snyder his "Not coach of the midyear" in his weekly column.
Not coach of the midyear: Bill Snyder (12), Kansas State. He was the toast of the league last year, but at 2-4 it’s been a stark comeuppance for the Manhattan legend. The Wildcats are a un-Snyder-like minus-9 in turnovers this season and could wind up with their first losing record since the regrettable Ron Prince Era.
Forde has a point about K-State looking unlike itself lately. The Wildcats finished in the Top 10 nationally in turnover margin the previous two years, per NCAA Stats. The lowest point this year came in a 33-29 loss to Oklahoma State, in which the 'Cats had 12 penalties for 92 yards and five turnovers.
But a closer look indicates that this team is actually getting better. If that's not the sign of vintage 'Snyderball', then nothing is.
Take K-State's season-opening loss to North Dakota State. The Bison drove 80 yards on 18 plays to score the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the game. Since then, Kansas State's defense has done a better job of getting off the field. The last opponent to consistently move the ball down the field on K-State was Texas. In a 31-21 win in Week 4, the 'Horns had three scoring possessions of at least 11 plays spanning 55 yards or more.
That was three games ago. And remember this is a defense replacing a majority of its starters from a year ago.
Against Baylor in Week 7, K-State held the best offense in the country to half of its season average in points and a 31 percent third-down completion percentage.
The Bears live off of big plays and quick scoring strikes. While Baylor still managed a few of those, Snyder's defense did a great job of keeping everything in front of them.
Normally, time of possession is a meaningless stat for Baylor because the offense has had no problem scoring. But if touchdowns aren't easy to come by, possessions and time become more important.
That's another area where Kansas State excelled against the Bears: controlling the clock and running the ball. The 327 yards K-State had on the ground were by far the best this season (against teams not named UMass). Baylor's defense may not be particularly stout, but running the ball is K-State's strength on offense.
With quarterback Daniel Sams making a majority of those plays, the Wildcats offense looks more like the ones of the past two or three years. The 41 yards on the ground KSU had against North Dakota State in Week 1 looked nothing like it.
NDSU and Baylor may have both resulted in losses for Kansas State, but there's no debate the Wildcats looked like a completely different team in Week 7 than they did in Week 1. A much better team.
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