Football is a team sport. Nowhere is this better epitomized year in and year out than in Manhattan. Sure, the postseason award lists were full of Wildcats last year, but you can’t deny how great that team was. There were too many dominant players. Yet at the end of the day, Collin Klein lost the Heisman to a flashier yet less successful player (in terms of both team and personal achievements), and everyone went home saying that 2012 club was a phenomenally successful group of athletes whose sum was greater than its individual parts. That’s a thread common among most Bill Snyder teams. This year that doesn’t seem to be the case.
K-State landed three players on the All-Big 12 first team, and three more on the second team. On the first team were Tyler Lockett, Ty Zimmerman, and Ryan Mueller. Second team honorees were B.J. Finney, Cornelius Lucas, and Blake Slaughter. For a K-State team that finished the season with a 7-5 record, that’s an interesting feat.
It’s not to say those players don’t deserve it – in fact, my argument is the opposite. I believe the school’s players are consistently overlooked in favor of bigger programs with more tradition who ESPN would prefer discussing. Tyler Lockett was the single most devastating wide receiver in the league. His totals led the league in all-purpose yards, he finished second in receiving yards per game, and third in receptions per game. I honestly don’t know what he would have done if he was healthy all year, but it’s scary to think about.
Ditto for defensive end Ryan Mueller, who led the conference with 18.5 tackles for loss and was second in sacks with 11.5 – 12 sacks lands him on the conference’s top 10 all-time list. And safety Ty Zimmerman led the conference in pick-sixes while being an effective field general all season. Finney, Lucas, and Slaughter were extremely important components this year as well.
The curious aspect is that six players landed on the first and second teams given how much the team struggled at points in the season (particularly early on). And it’s not that the team wasn’t competitive in every game – losses to teams like Baylor and Oklahoma State were winnable affairs, with the Wildcats holding leads in the second half. Part of the issue may be that normally players are edging each other out for attention. Defensive ends Meshak Williams, Adam Davis, and Ryan Mueller were all coming off the line to get sacks in 2012. This year, Mueller is pretty much the only defensive linemen who’s regularly impressed me. The linebacker play has been underwhelming, so Slaughter’s achievements are even more pronounced.
K-State may be the best 7-5 team in the nation. They’ve demonstrated an ability to hang with anyone, but wins against good teams have not been there this year. And particularly when I look to the defense, I feel the desire to make an observation I’m not proud of: this may be a team of a few great players carrying a larger group of players that simply aren’t that talented. Now if you’ll look to your left, there should be a bucket of rotten tomatoes being passed around. Feel free to take up to four to throw at me.