Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
For our next installment of the 100 day countdown to kickoff against North Dakota State University, 89 represents the average ranking of K-State’s recruiting classes from 2009-2012. Which, if the experts have it right, should mean this team finishes as about the 89th best team in the nation last year. Instead, the Wildcats have finished in the top 15 over the past two years while going 21-5. Even considering the first lean years of the second Bill Snyder era, the team is 34-17 over the past four years (with most of those victories coming against teams with higher recruiting rankings).
The 89th place average includes the lowest ranked program – 112th place – in 2009. So how did Snyder achieve what he did? The Wall Street Journal had an article last November about the program’s achievements, although it essentially states that the football team has success because the players work hard and the coaches brought in a couple stars in Collin Klein and Artur Brown. This simplification does major a disservice to what Bill Snyder has done, and seems like more an excuse to promote the virtues of conservatism than provide any introspective analysis of football.
First of all, most NCAA players work their asses off everyday. Sure, there are a few that feel so talented that they can afford to take days off, players that are lazy, and players that simply don’t have their heart in the game. But I would never claim that an Iowa State or West Virginia practice is any less demanding – nor that the players put in any less effort – than K-State’s. Sure Tyler Lockett is putting in work in the weight room this summer, but it’s dangerous to assume TCU’s wide receivers aren’t doing the exact same.
Secondly, the idea that Collin Klein and Arthur Brown carried the team is degrading to 30-some-odd other players that played vital roles in getting K-State back to a BCS Bowl. This team is anchored by the best offensive line in the Big 12 (a group, by the way, that returns every player in 2013). Both punter Ryan Doerr and kicker Anthony Cantele made the all-conference team. Arthur Brown could’ve had more tackles, but several were gobbled up by the best defensive line in the Big 12. What I’m getting at is, last year’s team was loaded with talent. To suggest a couple players took the entire program upon their shoulders is preposterous.
So what do we glean from these rankings? That Bill Snyder is better able to evaluate players than any yayhoo on ESPN, and he gets more from less than any coach out there. The rankings also underestimate the value of the junior college transfers K-State is able to secure. Finally, it gives us great reason for optimism. That 112th ranking corresponded with a 6-6 season in 2009. In 2010, 2011, and 2012 the team’s rankings were #63, #68, and #58. This team has been steadily rising every year, and success has followed.
So in a couple years those higher ranked classes are going to bear the same success (and possibly even more) that Snyder managed to squeeze out of “bad” recruiting classes. This year’s class was approximately on par with the rest, receiving a #65 ranking from Rivals. And the 2014 class is #35 in the nation, with seven players already committed, including five 3-star athletes.
It’s well known that K-State recruits for system, not tangible abilities. But as the school continues to gain prominence and interest from top players around the country, the ceiling for achievement will only continue to rise.