Big 12: Jonathan Truman

Each and every response was different, a sign that the wisdom shared daily lands on different ears in different ways.

Bill Snyder is approaching his 23rd season at Kansas State, a veteran coach with a reputation full of successes, on and off the field. When asked to find a solitary piece of advice that sticks with them from their longtime head coach, center BJ Finney, defensive end Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and receiver Tyler Lockett each had different responses.

Snyder’s words have sparked Mueller to put extra work in, to become a better player and a better teammate. His advice helped Mueller tie the school record with 11.5 sacks while earning first team All-Big 12 honors in 2013 and has continued to make Mueller hungry as he heads into his final season.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work," is a Bill Snyder phrase that sticks out to defensive end Ryan Mueller.
“He says things all the time that have stuck with me, but one that sticks out is ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,’” Mueller said. “I take that quote, look at it every morning and know I have to work hard to outwork, not only my teammates to put me on a leadership platform, but I also have to outwork any guy in the Big 12 conference. I know everybody is working hard but what guy is going to make that sacrifice to do it a little bit better?”

Truman’s name is one that might be unfamiliar to several Big 12 fans, despite finishing 13th in tackles in the Big 12 as a junior with 89 tackles. His takeaway from his time with Snyder is the unyielding discipline he has instilled into the program.

“He instills discipline in all of our players, that’s something we take on and off the field,” Truman said. “Obviously you need it on the field to do the right thing at the right time, all the time and off the field you need to make the right decisions. There’s always the easy way and the right way to do things. Those decisions every single day affect the person you are and impact your life.”

Snyder’s influence is much bigger than the here and now for Truman, who feels he’s learning life lessons that will stay with him for the next 30 years.

“He’s a guy that really has those values as a person that people should strive to be and that’s what he instills with us,” Truman said. “The type of values you take from this program and have later on in life when you have a wife and kids, you learn all those values here and take them throughout your life.”

For Finney it’s been something Snyder does that shows how much he cares as opposed to a single piece of advice.

“The thing that sticks with players the most, I know it does with me, is one day we’re going to have to hang the pads up,” Finney said. “Coach wants us to be ready and prepared for the day that happens. He truly cares for each and every player. He wants us to get a degree so if we don’t make the NFL we’re ready.

“Guys that leave early and don’t have a degree, he calls them every two weeks to get them to come back and at least finish that degree.”

For the reigning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year, Snyder’s influence is more about the here and now. He’s convinced Lockett focusing on his present is the best way to enhance his future.

“Just be 1-0, focus on today,” Lockett said. “If you focus on a month from now, you lose sight of everything you could have done to make your month from now much better. Be the best you can be today and eventually when it comes to that first game everything else will fall in place.”

Snyder has dedicated his life to impacting and molding football players, on and off the field. One simple question sparked four different answers from Wildcat players but no one can question Snyder’s ability to make a lasting impression on just about everyone he coaches. Each player agreed hard work was a staple of the program but their expanded responses give those of us on the outside a glimpse at what it’s like to interact daily with the man who has placed K-State’s program firmly on the right track, in several different ways.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Friday with Kansas State’s projected post-spring depth chart.

OFFENSE (projected starter in bold)

QB: Jake Waters (Sr.), Jesse Ertz (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters' emergence late last season solidified Kansas State's offense and has the Wildcats set up for a big 2014.
Waters becomes the unquestioned leader and main man behind center with Daniel Sams' move to receiver. The senior was one of the conference’s top quarterbacks during the final month of the 2013 season and gives the Wildcats plenty of confidence as a trigger man of the offense. Ertz showed good potential in the spring and could be the future at the position. KSU is one of the few Big 12 squads with a settled and productive starter and quality depth, as Sams is able to line up behind center at any point if need be.

RB: Charles Jones (So.), Jarvis Leverett (So.), DeMarcus Robinson (Sr.)

The battle to become John Hubert's successor remains wide open. Jones and Leverett had solid spring games while Robinson sat out, but none of the Wildcats running backs currently on campus distanced himself from the competition in the spring. The summer will bring new competitors into the mix, including true freshman Dalvin Warmack.

FB: Glenn Gronkowski (So.), Zach Nemechek (Sr.)

Gronkowski could be ready to stake his claim as the Big 12’s top fullback. He’s an solid runner, receiver and blocker and should continue to see his role in the offense expand as a sophomore. Nemechek has been a special teams performer and provides a solid backup option at the position.

WR: Tyler Lockett (Sr.), Curry Sexton (Sr.), Deante Burton (So.), Andre Davis (Jr.), Judah Jones (RFr.), Daniel Sams (Jr.), Kyle Klein (So.)

Lockett could be considered the Big 12’s best receiver and gives Waters a consistent target when he’s healthy. Sams is a proven playmaker, but it remains to be seen if he can transfer his explosiveness to his new position. Sexton was solid in his role last season and could be a key target during his final season. Keep an eye on Jones, who impressed with a strong spring showing and could be a much-needed playmaker alongside Lockett. If at least two additional targets emerge to join Lockett, this could be one of the conference’s top groups.

TE: Zach Trujillo (Sr.), Cody Small (RFr.)

Trujillo is a returning starter and a veteran in KSU’s offense. He won’t break the Big 12 record for pass receptions but is a productive player who could be a big target in the passing game and a key to the Wildcats' offense.

C; BJ Finney (Sr.), Reed Bergstrom (Jr.)

G: Boston Stiverson (Jr.), Drew Liddle (Sr.), Luke Hayes (Jr.), Will Ash (So.)

T: Cody Whitehair (Jr.), Matt Kleinsorge (Jr.), Reid Najvar (RFr.), Ajhane Brager (RFr.)

Bill Snyder’s desire to get the best five offensive linemen on the field means this group will likely remain fluid with veterans such as Whitehair, who has moved from guard to tackle, and Finney as the foundation of the line. Overall, the Wildcats should have a pretty solid and deep group of offensive linemen despite losing several seniors off last year’s front.

DEFENSE

DE: Ryan Mueller (Sr.), Marquel Bryant (Jr.), Laton Dowling (Sr.)

DT: Travis Britz (Jr.), Valentino Coleman (Sr.), Will Geary (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeTravis Britz
Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCTK-State's opponents will have their work cut out for them in trying to block junior defensive tackle Travis Britz.
Much like the offensive line, K-State has a veteran and productive group along the defensive front. There are still jobs left to be won, but Mueller and Britz are among the Big 12’s best at their positions and provide consistent production. Add ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales into the mix and this defensive line group should be a big reason to consider Kansas State a conference title contender.

LB: Jonathan Truman (Sr.), Will Davis (So.), Dakorey Johnson (Sr.), Charmeachealle Moore (Jr.)

Truman returns after breakout junior season which featured 89 tackles in 13 starts for the Wildcats. Davis appears ready to slide into the starting lineup after impressing as a redshirt freshman, while Johnson and Moore should provide solid depth at the position but will have to battle to maintain their roles with ESPN JC 50 linebacker D'Vonta Derricott arriving in the summer.

CB: Randall Evans (Sr.), Morgan Burns (Jr.), Nate Jackson (Jr.), Cre Moore (RFr.), Danzel McDaniel (Jr.), Corey Jackson (RFr.)

Burns was one of KSU’s stars of the spring and appears to have settled into the No. 1 cornerback spot. The rest of the Wildcats cornerbacks are battling for the other starting spot outside of Evans, who started 11 games as KSU’s nickelback in 2013 and is lone returning starter of the group. While KSU lost experience at corner, the Wildcats might have upgraded in terms of overall talent.

S: Dante Barnett (Jr.), Dylan Schellenberg (Sr.), Sean Newlan (RFr.), Weston Hiebert (Sr.)

Barnett is a star and one of the more underrated defenders in the Big 12, while Schellenberg got plenty of experience when Ty Zimmerman was sidelined by injury last season. Barnett is probably the only safety with a secure spot in KSU’s defensive plans, so expect the battle for playing time to continue deep into August.
Kansas State will conclude spring ball in the Big 12 with its spring game Saturday.

Here’s a closer look:

When: 1:10 p.m. CT Saturday

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.

What to watch for:
  • QB Jake Waters: Waters finished out 2013 on fire after struggling in his first few career FBS starts. Now, Waters – and his teammates – say his confidence level is night and day from where it was last season. Saturday will provide a glimpse of just how far he’s come along.
  • Daniel Sams’ new spot: The former dual-threat quarterback requested and was granted the opportunity to try out at receiver this spring. So far the results have been positive, according to coach Bill Snyder. Sams can be dynamic with the ball in his hands and could give the K-State attack a major boost by finding a way back onto the field.
  • The running backs: This position group is biggest question on the roster, and it could gain a little clarity with a big performance. So far, neither Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones nor DeMarcus Robinson has separated in the competition to replace three-year starter John Hubert. With blue-chip freshman Dalvin Warmack set to join the fray in the summer, the spring game will be a big chance for one of the backs to make his mark.
  • Juco impact: Once again, Snyder dipped heavily into the juco ranks to replenish his roster. Three of those players – receiver Andre Davis, offensive tackle Luke Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel – signed early and will be on full display Saturday. Hayes has been particularly impressive and could be on the verge of locking down a starting role. Davis and McDaniel could eventually become starters, too.
  • Defensive newcomers: The Wildcats return four key players defensively in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller, second-team all-conference tackle Travis Britz, linebacker Jonathan Truman and safety and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl defensive MVP Dante Barnett. But that leaves seven other spots for the taking. The Wildcats have some highly touted jucos joining the team in the summer, notably tackle Terrell Clinkscales and outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott. But the spring game will provide up-and-coming defenders such as cornerback Morgan Burns and linebacker Charmeachealle Moore to build confidence and show what they can do.
During the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Friday, we continue with the Kansas State Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett could make a strong case for being the Big 12's most dangerous offensive player.
1. WR Tyler Lockett: What more can be said about Lockett? The argument could be made that he is the Big 12’s best offensive player. He was simply unstoppable in 2013. Lockett’s per-game averages of 6.75 receptions and 105.17 receiving yards led all Big 12 receivers. If he’s healthy and on the field, he’s going to make plays -- it’s just that simple.

2. DE Ryan Mueller: Relentless and intense, Mueller is back to create havoc in opposing backfields after recording at least one sack in eight of 13 games a year ago. He doesn’t overwhelm blockers with his size and strength, but his quickness and desire make him difficult to block.

3. OG Cody Whitehair: An excellent anchor in the middle, Whitehair had a superb sophomore season, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. He returns to give KSU’s offense a solid building block at guard.

4. C BJ Finney: Finney joins Whitehair to give the Wildcats one of the Big 12’s better interior lineman duos. A first-team All-Big 12 performer, Finney has been a staple in one of the conference’s most productive running games for the past three seasons.

5. S Dante Barnett: A key playmaker for KSU’s defense as a sophomore, Barnett will take on an even bigger role in 2014 with Ty Zimmerman no longer alongside him in the secondary. Barnett had 75 tackles and four interceptions in 2013.

6. QB Jake Waters: The senior is coming off a strong end to his first season with the Wildcats. His 66 adjusted QBR (on a scale of 0-100, with 50 being average) ranked seventh in the Big 12, but his 81 adjusted QBR in November and December was better than every Big 12 quarterback except Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf and Texas Tech's Davis Webb.

7. DT Travis Britz: Britz was active in the defensive interior for the Wildcats in 2013, finishing with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore. He provides a solid piece for KSU to build around this fall.

8. QB Daniel Sams: KSU is exploring ways to use the dynamic Sams, but there’s no question he’s too talented to leave on the sidelines. He could line up at multiple positions this fall after being responsible for 15 touchdowns in 2013, tied for sixth in the Big 12. His 5.31 yards per touch from scrimmage was easily the conference’s best among quarterbacks.

9. LB Jonathan Truman: The former walk-on earned a starting spot as a junior and became one of the defense’s most productive players. His 89 tackles ranked second on the team, and two of his three double-digit tackle games (Texas Tech, Oklahoma) came in the final four games of the regular season.

10. FB Glenn Gronkowski: Whoever wins the race to start at running back for the Wildcats will have the peace of mind of knowing Gronkowski will be helping to pave the way. He proved to be a quality blocker and legit receiving threat during his freshman season. And, yes, he’s one of those Gronkowkis.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This will be as deep as any linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. But there’s reason to believe that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Snyder has Kansas State rolling again

November, 13, 2013
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It’s not exactly another Manhattan miracle.

But here comes Kansas State coach Bill Snyder with yet another reclamation project.

The Wildcats opened the season with a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State before going 0-3 to begin the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsAfter a 2-4 start, Bill Snyder's Wildcats have won three straight games.
Since then, Kansas State has emerged into one of the hotter teams in college football, winning three straight by an average margin of almost four touchdowns.

“The environment we try to create is that incremental improvement throughout the course of the year, regardless of what the outcome of the ballgames happen to be,” Snyder said. “It’s a very positive thing to see young guys overcome disappointment of ballgames they had opportunities to be successful at and weren’t. It’s the old never-give-up type of attitude. But that’s not anything I would not have expected from the young guys in our program.”

The young guys in Snyder's program just keep getting better.

Last weekend, the Wildcats demolished then-No. 25 Texas Tech in Lubbock. K-State scored touchdowns on its first five possessions to jump to a 35-10 lead, before coasting to the 49-26 victory.

“The momentum is high,” said linebacker Jonathan Truman. “We had some bumps in the road at the beginning of the year. But I feel we’ve recovered, and we’ve been taking steps in the right direction to get better.”

Thanks to those steps, the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) are now just one win away from becoming bowl eligible heading into this weekend’s matchup with TCU. However, they have goals bigger than just getting to a bowl.

"We wanna win out and finish the season strong," said safety Dante Barnett.

The way the Wildcats have been playing lately, that’s not so lofty a goal.

“As usual, Coach Snyder’s team has grown in confidence,” said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson. “There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”

A month ago, it was unclear whether the defending Big 12 champs would even make a bowl.

In a disastrous opener, K-State surrendered an 18-play, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to North Dakota State, which knocked off the Wildcats with a touchdown plunge in the final seconds.

The season didn’t get any better in Big 12 play, as K-State it dropped games at Texas and Oklahoma State, before coming up short at home against Baylor.

But the loss to the Bears proved to be a turning point. Without starting wideouts Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, K-State had little in the passing game. But quarterback Daniel Sams led a monster performance on the ground with 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and the Wildcats had the ball with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

“Even though it was a loss, it showed what we were capable of,” said center B.J. Finney. “It wasn’t a perfect game. But we realized if we didn’t beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties, we could play with anybody.”

K-State has been a different team ever since.

With Lockett and Thompson back in the lineup, the Wildcats exploded in the fourth quarter to hammer West Virginia, 35-12, on Oct. 26. K-State then destroyed Iowa State 41-7 before handling the Red Raiders last week.

 


As usual, Coach [Bill] Snyder’s team has grown in confidence. There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”


-- TCU coach Gary Patterson

 

During its three-game winning streak, the K-State offense has been a model of efficiency.

From the third quarter of the West Virginia game to halftime at Texas Tech, the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 14 of 22 possessions, not counting kneel downs.

Not only has it been efficient, the offense has been remarkably balanced, too. In the past three games, the Wildcats have averaged 198 yards through the air and 225 on the ground.

At the foundation of the Wildcats' offensive surge has been their success in utilizing a two-quarterback system. Sams and Jake Waters, who think of themselves as tag-team wrestlers playing quarterback, have been lethal of late.

Since the Baylor game, they’ve completed 73 percent of their passes with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Last week against Tech, they produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs for the week (98.4 and 94.9).

“I’ve never been a big fan attempting to utilize two quarterbacks on a somewhat equal basis,” Snyder said. “But I think Daniel and Jake have really embraced each other. Really helped each other. Really encouraged each other. They’re both also well received by their teammates. Their teammates pull for each of them, and [they] have been very comfortable with either one.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ryan Mueller has set the tone both in practice and in games. He has also surfaced as a viable Big 12 defensive-player-of-the-year candidate, leading the conference with eight sacks, including four in the past two weeks.

“He practices how he plays,” linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said of Mueller.

True to the Snyder blueprint for success, the Wildcats are limiting penalties and turnovers, too. They now lead the Big 12 in fewest penalties committed and fewest penalty yardage.

And since turning the ball over five times in a 33-29 loss at Oklahoma State, the Wildcats have given up the ball just four times in four games.

“We went back and looked at the past successes of this program and focused on eliminating the little things that had been beating us,” Lockett said. “Coach Snyder kept telling us, if we kept working in practice, it was gonna pay off one day.”

“Well, it’s paying off.”

Big 12's unsung heroes: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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The Big 12’s unsung heroes for Week 10:

Linebacker Jake Love, Kansas: Playing alongside Ben Heeney, it’s easy to overlook Love, a sophomore. He tied Heeney for the team lead with nine tackles, including six solo stops, in the 35-13 loss to Texas. Love added one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup against the Longhorns.

Linebacker Jonathan Truman, Kansas State: Lining up alongside Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker, the junior has been overshadowed this season. He had seven tackles, including six solo stops, to tie for the team lead in KSU’s 41-7 win over Iowa State. It was the first time he recorded seven tackles after beginning the season with four consecutive games recording at least seven tackles.

[+] EnlargeDeVondrick Nealy
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsDeVondrick Nealy rushed for 53 yards and Iowa State's lone score against Kansas State.
Running back DeVondrick Nealy, Iowa State: There wasn’t much to be proud of for the Cyclones in their 41-7 loss to Kansas State, but Nealy was one bright spot for ISU. The sophomore was seldom used in Iowa State's first five games but has 24 of his 29 total carries in the past three weeks. He led ISU with 12 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown against the Wildcats and finished with 96 all-purpose yards to lead the squad. It’s been a disappointing season, but Nealy’s emergence could pay off in the future.

Cornerback Tyler Patmon, Oklahoma State: A Kansas transfer, Patmon stepped in and stepped up with starting cornerback Kevin Peterson out. Patmon had six tackles, all solo, including one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. It was just his second multiple-tackle game of the season. Patmon’s performance is the reason the Cowboys were interested in bringing the senior to Stillwater to provide quality, veteran depth at cornerback.

Receiver Jaxon Shipley, Texas: Running back Malcolm Brown received all the headlines with his four-touchdown performance, but Shipley recorded his best game during the Longhorns’ five-game winning streak. He finished with six receptions for 77 yards, with four of his receptions coming on third down in Texas' 35-13 victory over Kansas. The junior is a quarterback’s best friend with his quickness, route-running and sure hands.

Receiver Josh Doctson, TCU: It’s probably fair to say more was expected from the Wyoming transfer heading into the season. However, the sophomore might have had a breakout performance against West Virginia with eight receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. He had five receptions for 33 yards and one touchdown on first-down plays. He entered the game with 12 total receptions.

Safety Keenon Ward, Texas Tech: Making his first career start, Ward finished with four tackles, including one tackle for loss and one interception. The redshirt freshman wasn’t perfect, but he showed he could become a playmaker on the Red Raiders' defense for the rest of the season and beyond.

West Virginia offensive line: Charles Sims was the clear standout with his 24 carries for 154 yards and one touchdown in WVU’s 30-27 victory over TCU. The Mountaineers’ offensive line deserves a lot of credit as they paved the way for Sims to average 6.42 yards per carry. WVU’s offensive front was particularly nasty on first down, paving the way for Sims’ 14 first-down carries for 98 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.

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