MANHATTAN — Kansas State didn’t have much trouble dealing with complacency last season.
Just about every week the Wildcats were the underdogs.
That won’t be the case after a masterful job by head coach Bill Snyder resulted in a season that far exceeded expectations — 10 regular-season wins, a surprising trip to the Cotton Bowl and the emergence of quarterback Collin Klein as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Now, pundits are expecting No. 22 Kansas State to succeed, and for the first time since Snyder returned to the sideline, complacency could become an issue.
“The consequences sometimes are pretty astonishing,” Snyder said recently. “It’s kind of a bad habit to get into because it’s a bad habit to break once you have gotten into it. There’s a lot of trouble. As far as on the football field is concerned, we’ve got a lot of examples.”
Start with the 2000 season.
Kansas State was coming off an 11-3 season capped by a 35-21 victory over Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. The Wildcats scuffled to six wins the following season.
Or look at the 2004 season.
The Wildcats were coming off another 11-win season, which included a stunning upset of heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. They went 4-7 the next year.
The case that might resonate most with this group, however, occurred much more recently — last season’s opener against Eastern Kentucky. It’s the kind of game scheduled to provide your team with an easy, confidence-building win, and it would have turned into a brutal, confidence-sapping loss for Kansas State if not for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 1:33 left in the game.
“We called it taking your performance level for granted,” Snyder said, “and we did that, as you recall. It was obvious.”
The Wildcats learned from the scare, putting together a season that left most outside observers scratching their heads. But the Wildcats still have room for improvement.
Kansas State was outgained by an average of 106.8 yards in Big 12 play, and ranked sixth in the league in pass defense, allowing more than 263 yards through the air.
Those are the kinds of numbers that a 10-win team isn’t supposed to yield.
“Most people would look at statistics and say we need to improve against the pass, which we do,” Snyder said, before providing a caveat. “In this league, statistics throwing the football are going to be significantly higher than they might normally be in most conferences.
“Consequently, the reverse effect is you have to be better on pass defense unless you decide you will line up and outscore people, which are not our kids.”
The Wildcats probably won’t be outscoring everyone this season, either, but Kansas State does intend to employ a more diverse offense. Last season, it was a steady dose of Klein on the ground, with a few pass plays thrown in to keep defenses off balance.
Using a deep stable of running backs should help take the load off Klein, who had more rush attempts than pass attempts last season — and nearly as many yards, 1,141 on the ground to 1,918 through the air. And it should also open up the pass, particularly down the field.
“Last year, people really just started tightening down their defense, giving us some very unusual looks because they weren’t as concerned about our passing,” Kansas State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “Now we’re hoping that with the way (Klein) has improved his passing, it will create a lot more problems for people defensively.”
The Wildcats return more starters this season than any since 2006, but Snyder is quick to warn that nothing should be taken for granted — remember that whole complacency issue?
It appears that the veteran team has taken Snyder’s preaching to heart, too.
“Just because we finished in some close games doesn’t mean we’re there,” Klein said. “We were a better team at the end of last season than we were at the beginning, a better team at the end of spring than we were at the beginning of spring, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re a better team at the end of camp than we were at the beginning of camp.”
Still, the Wildcats know that talk is cheap, and it won’t be until they play Missouri State in their season opener Sept. 1 that people will start to draw conclusions about the team.
“We can all talk about it,” Snyder said. “It’s what we do about it that makes a difference.”