To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today we'll continue our series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. Next up: Last year's second-place finisher: Kansas State.
Why Kansas State will win the Big 12
1. Improvement is quite literally what Bill Snyder is all about. Bill Snyder's 16 goals for success are the building blocks upon which he's built his program, and chief among those is daily improvement. That's what Snyder's program did the first time around, and it's what he's done in his second turn as K-State coach. Last year, K-State won 10 games and finished second in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma State, which lost its two best players, quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. Meanwhile, Kansas State returns the core of its team and most importantly, quarterback Collin Klein. If this team is going to keep improving, the only place to go is the top of the conference.
2. No team in the Big 12 is tougher to prepare for. Most defenses in the Big 12 are built to stop high-powered passing attacks. Good defenses load up on defensive backs and pass-rushers. That's how you win in the Big 12. That's not how you beat this K-State team, though. You must be physical up front and tackle well. If you don't, nightmares of Klein will follow. Snyder's not afraid to do the same thing over and over until you can stop it. If that means slamming 230 pounds of his quarterback into your linebackers over and over again, so be it. Kansas State will do what it takes, and nobody in the Big 12 does what K-State does.
3. Collin Klein is a new man. Klein made big improvement throwing the ball as the 2011 season rolled on, but didn't play well in the season-ending loss to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. K-State doesn't allow much access in the spring, but all reports indicated that Klein was throwing the ball even better. He's going to be better this season, and he's got an underrated set of receivers to catch the ball. Stopping K-State's offense is about to be even more difficult, and it may mean the Big 12 Championship trophy is on the way to Manhattan for the first time since 2003.
Why Kansas State will not win the Big 12
1. The defense is somewhat overrated. Kansas State got a reputation as one of the league's best defenses last year, but the Wildcats were only seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference play and fifth in the conference in total defense during last season. What's most troubling about that? The Wildcats' ball-control offense allowed them to face only 676 total plays in conference play, fourth-fewest in the Big 12. If they had faced five more plays, they would have ranked second in the league. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's offenses lit up the Wildcats, and Baylor put up 35 points, too. Can K-State still hang with the league's elite offenses? Arthur Brown and Nigel Malone are elite talents, but there aren't many more on defense.
2. Even with Klein's improvement, the offense will still be too one-dimensional. Klein's probably better as a passer this year, but if we're talking strictly passing acumen, Klein isn't better than many Big 12 quarterbacks. Klein's running ability softens up coverages downfield, but the bar for Big 12 passers is high. Arkansas completely shut down Klein as a runner, and he couldn't throw well enough to keep the Hogs honest. Shutting down Klein's legs isn't an easy task, but if a team can do it, the odds are against K-State playing well enough to win. And that may be even more the case this season with Kansas State rebuilding its offensive line. The SnyderCats lost three starters along the line from last year's physical unit.
3. Magic doesn't last forever. Ah, yes. The million-dollar factor from 2011. We've written about it plenty. Kansas State was 8-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, with its only loss coming to Big 12 champ Oklahoma State -- on the road, no less. What people are saying when they bring that up? Kansas State was lucky to win 10 games last year when it probably only should have won seven or eight at the most. Well, it happened, and it's possible that K-State could be a better team and still only win nine or 10 games this year. History tells us that won't be good enough to win the Big 12.