One of my favorite things about this season of Kansas State football is watching the post-game interviews of the opponent’s players and coaches. Each week you can see the frustration level of both grow as they fail to comprehend just how K-State won the game. Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville summed it up by noting that “they don’t do anything special,” and that’s exactly how Bill Snyder likes it. Recently, I watched the movie “Moneyball” and after Saturday’s game, I realized that this year’s Kansas State football team could replace the Oakland Athletics in that movie without changing much more than the colors and the game. The Wildcats are playing their own version of college football and much like the A’s, the results so far are amazing. Continue reading to find out just how moneyball K-State is.
The man who started all the moneyball thinking is Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane. Beane was promoted to GM by the A’s in 1998 and continued building the team using saber metrics which challenged the traditional values major league baseball used to build its ball clubs. There are plenty of lessons to take from Beane’s approach to baseball and the way those principles match up to K-State football is uncanny. See for yourself:
Principle 1: Face the Facts
The first thing that Billy Beane did to begin making changes was admit that the Oakland A’s were never going to be in the same tier as teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. It takes a bit of swallowing of pride to do something like that but it also helps you to play within your limitations and focus on how to build a program with what you can have. The tiers in major league baseball are set by the amount of money an owner is willing to spend based on his team’s market. It’s basically no different in college football. While the money isn’t applied to contracts and being able to sign the biggest name players, there’s no argument that teams like Oklahoma, Alabama, and Texas have a huge advantage over everyone else in their ability to build football related facilities which attract the attention of high school kids. Kansas State fans, athletic directors, coaches, and recruiters know they aren’t going to go out and sign any 5 star recruit they want. Heck, the Wildcats aren’t even going to grab any 4 star recruit they want so they don’t waste their time pretending like it might happen. They go after the recruits they know they have a shot with and plan ahead year after year building their program with athletes that other schools may not even look at. (example: Colin Klein, John Hubert) Admitting you aren’t a top tier program in terms of money might be hard to do, but if you never admit it (Texas A&M/Missouri) you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Principle 2: Draft & Develop
Mr. Beane knew that because he would never be able to go sign the premium names during free agency frenzies, he had to focus on drafting the right players and developing them. The A’s put much more value into drafting players who have played through college because they have experience at a higher level than those coming straight from high school. Basically, they’ve proven that they can play at the next level which helps the A’s to avoid drafting flops like so many high school seniors end up being after going straight to the professional levels of baseball. Kansas State has been known to practice the college football equivalent by being heavy on the amount of JuCo players and transfers they are willing to bring in. Each signing day brings a fresh dose of players who have a year or two of experience at the college level and usually a few of those players pay huge dividends for Kansas State. This season we are seeing that principle in action through the great play of Nigel Malone, Jordan Voelker, Arthur Brown, Chris Harper, & Brodrick Smith to name a few. Bill Snyder has always been willing to take in those who are cast out of other programs and has developed plenty of them into award winning players.
Principle 3: Focusing on Defense
One of the biggest changes to baseball that Billy Beane has made comes on his attention to how well a player performs defensively. MLB players are almost always talked about and evaluated on their offensive statistics but Beane sought out those who would limit mistakes in the field. More than anyother team, the Oakland Athletics have chosen to sign players with less offensive upside in favor of those who can field their position. The basic thought is that the fewer mistakes made defensively, the fewer opportunities for the opponent to score runs. K-State most definitely takes this principle to heart. While the offense was always among the best, the glory days of Wildcat football were defined by the defense. The “Lynch Mob” dominated and held any opposing team to absolute minimums. The same thing is happening this year and the results speak for themselves. The current K-State defense plays incredibly sound football which limits mistakes, creates turnovers, and just as Billy Beane drew it up… takes away chances for the other team to score. Bill Snyder has built Kansas State on solid offense and incredible defense and that blueprint has created a team that currently has a 6-0 record.
Principle 4: Play Your Game
The Oakland A’s played their own kind of baseball. While other teams begged for the long ball and high slugging percentages, Oakland learned how to lay down bunts, take walks, and get on base. Beane didn’t care how everyone else played, he just wanted Oakland to be what they were built to be. Sound familiar? In a conference full of teams spreading the field out and throwing the ball 70 times a game, Kansas State runs about 4 plays and they all come right at you. While everyone else was trying to figure out how to become the best at hitting the long ball, Kansas State is busy being the best at doing what they do. Bill Snyder doesn’t care about the newest offensive play books, he cares about perfection in whatever his team takes on. Evry week the opponent knows exactly what’s coming, and every week so far, they’ve failed to stop it. Nothing illustrated that more than the win sealing final first down of the game against Texas Tech. Kansas State came out on 3rd and 2 with Klein in the shotgun and Braden Wilson as the only other person in the backfield. Kansas State knew Klein was going to go up the middle, the 50,000 fans in Jones AT&T stadium knew Klein was going up the middle, Tuberville knew Klein was going up the middle, and you can bet for darn sure the 9 Texas Tech defenders within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage knew Klein was going up the middle. The ball was snapped and 4 yards later the game was over. I wouldn’t be surprised if K-State never throws the ball again just to spite all those coaches living and dying by the spread offense.
The downside to the moneyball approach is that it has it’s limitations. While Oakland had some great teams, they have never achieved the ultimate goal of a World Series. The good news for K-State is that as they continue to get better with Snyder part II, they can eventually rid themselves of certain moneyball principles and break into the top tier which is exactly what happened in 1998 with their #1 ranking. Whether never the current Kansas State is the college football equivalent of MLB’s moneyball team doesn’t need to be asked. The only thing left to ponder is who will play Bill Snyder on the big screen?