Kansas State out to prove 2011 was no fluke
DALLAS — It takes more than one good year to earn respect in the Big 12. How else to explain Kansas State being picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 media poll?
The Wildcats went 10-3 last season and finished second in the Big 12. They return 17 starters, including quarterback Collin Klein who can make plays with his arm and his feet.
If Oklahoma or Texas returned 17 starters from a 10-win team, including a veteran quarterback, is there any chance they would be picked so low?
"It's really not about everybody else's expectations, it's about ours," Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker said Monday during the Big 12's Media Days. "It's not about what everybody projects us to be, but what we project ourselves to be. We were picked number eight last year and then look where we finished.
"It doesn't matter how people place you. It matters what you do on Saturday."
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has been doing good things on Saturdays for a long time. Snyder said he's more concerned when his team is projected to be a favorite than an underdog.
"You look back at last season and we moved up maybe six slots. I just hope we can do something similar to that," Snyder said.
"Do we perform better as, quote-unquote, underdogs? That I don't know. I haven't seen any statistics in that regard. Last year, obviously, we played reasonably well in those circumstances."
Both of the Big 12's newcomers, TCU and West Virginia, were ranked higher than Kansas State despite not having played a down in the league.
West Virginia went 10-3, 5-2 last year in the Big East and was picked second behind Oklahoma. TCU was 11-2, 7-0 in the Mountain West and was picked fifth.
Is Kansas State a one-year wonder? Until last season, the Wildcats had not won 10 games.
Also working against Kansas State is the way it went about winning those 10 games in 2011. Five of the wins were by four points or less.
Getting blasted by Oklahoma, 58-17, didn't help, either.
Of course, there's a simple solution for Kansas State to prove 2011 wasn't a one-year wonder.
"We've just got to do it again," Klein said. "And just keep doing what got us here in the first place, and that was staying together, playing tough, not beating ourselves, and ultimately getting better week to week. If we do that over time, consistently, good things will happen."
Klein knows something about playing tough. Often last season he was the entire offense. In addition to passing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns, Klein also ran for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns – and had the bruises to show for it.
"I was pretty dinged up," Klein said. "It was definitely hard getting out of the bed in the morning."
Klein has definitely impressed his head coach, who isn't known to heap praise on individual players. Snyder is known for being demanding of his quarterbacks.
"Collin's a wonderful young person," Snyder said. "He's one of those young guys that is truly committed to getting better every single day of his life. It was evidenced as you watched him through the course of the season."
The Wildcats also return running back John Hubert, who rushed for 970 yards last season, and receiver Tyler Lockett, an all-purpose threat who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2011.
Defensively, Kansas State boasts linebacker Arthur Brown, the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, and All-Big 12 defensive back Nigel Malone.
Perhaps most of all, the Wildcats return the experience of having a 10-win season.
"I would suggest right now that we probably have a stronger leadership…than we have had at any point in time," Snyder said. "I see a great deal of growth in that respect."
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire