Keeler: Prognosticators’ ‘hate’ just makes K-State stronger

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The first sports-information-directors’ poll, better known to the general public as the “Coaches’ Top 25,” came out late last week, and Kansas State, the defending Big 12 champions, got the usual showering of summer love. If by “love” you mean, “a swift kick to the cojones.”

But they’re in the picture. Well, maybe not so much in the picture as dangling from the corner of the frame.

Top 15?

Lower.

Top 25?

Lower.

Wait. What?

Hang on! Hang on! Found ’em. Fine print. “Others receiving votes.”

‘Others receiving votes?’

Well, they’re first in that group, if it makes you feel any better.

Yeah. Thought not.

“We see that,” Wildcat quarterback Daniel Sams said Monday during K-State’s annual Football Media Day. “We just look at that as motivation.

“Coach (Bill) Snyder tells us — last year, we were (picked) seventh in the Big 12?”

Sixth, dude. This year, same deal.

“Every day when we come out on the field and work, we say, ‘Let’s go guys, we’re No. 6.'”

You do?

“We laugh it off. You know, as an offense, we say, ‘Come on guys, who’s No. 6?’

“Because every day, I feel like, as a family, as a team, we come out here, we work, we work — we’re more than No. 6, you know?”

How much more, well … there’s the rub. Quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown have left the building, two massive pairs of shoes that require some serious filling.

And those aren’t the only vacancies: K-State welcomes back just 60.9 percent of its letter-winners from last year’s league champs, which ranks 112th out of 125 programs in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Division. The ‘Cats have 35.7 percent of its yardage back from 2012, which is 117th. Tackles? Oy vey. It’s 34.2 percent, or No. 125 out of 125.

Which sort of explains that whole ‘No. 6’ thing. A bit.

“Which makes sense,” senior linebacker Blake Slaughter, one of those new faces, said with a shrug, “if I were on the outside looking in. They don’t know what we have. You see a Heisman Trophy candidate gone (in Klein). You see an All-American linebacker gone (in Brown).

“They can put us wherever they want to put us. That doesn’t change what we’ve been doing here. That doesn’t change what we do in camp. We have a process that we do every single year, year-in and year-out. It’s been the same for five years. We’re going to continue to be K-State and play K-State football.”

The names change. The core principles — Snyder’s famous “16 Goals,” the gospel of the Flint Hills — remain the same.

Goal No. 12: No Self-Limitations. Expect more from yourself.

“We’re just trying to concentrate on our own identity,” Sams continued. “So at the end of the day, I feel like, people can say whatever they want.  And the end of the season, we’re going to see what it is.”

Ol’ No. 6 doesn’t forget a snub. Which is part of their charm, really.

You see nine new starters on defense, a revamped secondary, players pushed from “role” status to center stage. Sams sees an ambush.

“You don’t know,” said the signal-caller, whose battle for the starting job with Jake Waters is one of the Little Apple’s juicier August subplots. “That’s why I feel, as a team, it’s time for us to show it. You know, we’re going to show you what it is. And maybe next year, you’ll make the right decision.”

You see the gaping hole where Klein used to be. Sams sees daylight, just waiting to be run to, pried open by the second-most experienced offensive line in the Big 12.

You see the other guy with too much room to roam in the box, the neighborhood where Brown did the most beautiful damage. You see balls escaping from the pocket that used to get swatted away by Meshak Williams at the line of scrimmage. Tre Walker sees junior-college import Devon Nash at defensive end, a 6-foot-5 jackhammer with a 32-inch vertical leap.

“It’s kind of easy to fall asleep on a bunch of pretty-boy names you don’t know,” the big linebacker said. “But that’s the good thing.”

With that, he grinned. Broadly. Wickedly.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com