Kansas State ramps up competition as opener nears
Bill Snyder understands better than most what ticks inside the minds of young men. It's a big reason he's won 149 games at one of the most nondescript schools in major college football.
When the longtime Kansas State coach held off on releasing a depth chart in fall practice, he knew exactly what would happen: Players would seize on the opportunity to compete.
That's occurred at quarterback, where Collin Klein appears to have locked up the starting job for the season opener Sept. 3 against Eastern Kentucky. And it appears to be happening at running back, where Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown is trying to earn the top nod. And at wide receiver, where a deep and talented group of players are fighting for playing time.
''With no depth chart, I think it really helped the team a lot,'' said junior wide receiver Brodrick Smith, who caught 14 passes for 191 yards last season before breaking his leg against Nebraska.
''You have everyone out here working hard,'' Smith said, ''because when you have everyone working hard, they're thinking they have a chance.''
Truth is, they probably do.
The Wildcats return 15 starters from last season, depending who you count. But those they lost made the most impact, including quarterback Carson Coffman and running back Daniel Thomas, who accounted for 1,585 yards rushing and 19 TDs while helping Kansas State reach the Pinstripe Bowl.
Those jobs aren't the only ones that are open, either. There appear to be just as many up for grabs on defense, even with eight starters back from last season.
''You know, it's like the coach one time that said, `The good news is I got 10 returning starters on defense. The bad news is I got 10 returning starters on defense,''' Snyder said with a slight smile. ''Some competition that we're talking about, the strength of the two-deep, is centered on defense, and I've seen improvement.''
That would be good news for Wildcat fans.
Kansas State allowed 29.1 points and 446 yards per game last season, which amounted to the second-worst defense in the Big 12. That included 231 yards on the ground, the most allowed by the Wildcats since Snyder arrived the first time in 1989 and by far the worst mark in the conference.
The top five tacklers return from last season, which is usually good news. But the fact that four of them were cornerbacks and safeties is most certainly not.
''You've heard me say thousands of times the program didn't grow out of the sand like Las Vegas. It was very gradual,'' said Snyder, entering his third season of his second tenure. ''It wasn't like someone said all of a sudden, `They're here.' It was gradual, and that's the way it has to be.''
Make no mistake, Snyder expects to see results. He's about as patient as a 2-year-old, and he knows that two years of steady growth have set Kansas State up for a breakthrough season.
Whether that occurs will depend largely on how newcomers fill out the two-deep, and whether the competition that Snyder so actively sought in fall camp has yielded any progress. That may not be evident until Sept. 24, when the Wildcats visit Miami for a high-profile nonconference game.
''I'm a firm believer that when you have two guys who are passionate about becoming the best they can be, and one becomes a starter and they compete against each other, they elevate their performance,'' Snyder said. ''When that happens, that position - regardless of who ends up No. 1 and No. 2 - that person becomes better.''