Monday, December 3, 2012

16 Goals & a Big XII Championship

In the spring of 2011, I still remember my father telling me, "If Collin Klein is our quarterback, we are in big trouble." I don't mean that as a knock on my dad- in fact, I agreed with him, as did many others. I just use it to illustrate how we all felt- and really how we felt about the team going into the season.

Goal 4: Improve- every day as a player, person, and student

Flashforward to the end of 2011. K-State went 10-3, winning an astounding 8 games by a touchdown or less, causing many to think, "hey, we were pretty lucky this year. Next year may be different as a result, but let's enjoy this while it lasts." Even looking at the 2012 schedule, it looked like a monumental task to even get close to those 10 wins again. Road game vs OU to start, road games vs BigXII newcomers and highly-ranked TCU & West Virginia. Improved Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Texas teams. I thought 8-4 was possible, 9-3 at best, as did most.

Goal 2: Unity- come together as never before

Something happened during the year though, that may have tipped us off to the coming success of 2012. I'm talking about Snyder's 16 goals. Those goals have been around since Snyder took over in 1988. They're what he lived by and was his teams lived by as they skyrocketed up the polls, all the way to a #1 ranking in 1998. Their continued success was a direct result. The only problem was that no one knew about them. K-Staters hardly knew about them. When they were made quite public in 2011, however, it did something to K-State that I hadn't seen before- it clearly defined them. K-State had always had an identity, sure. They lived off of non-offensive touchdowns (most in FBS since 1999). They ran a new-to-the-day option offense where the quarterback had way more room to run or pass than ever before. And their defense played smash-mouth, blitz-every-down football. But as talent and assistants changed, so did the success of those pieces of identity. The 16 goals, however, were and are unchangeable. K-State could keep them even after Snyder retires. They clearly define K-State.

Goal 1: Commitment - to goals and being successful

Even more than the 16 goals becoming public, they had a senior class that clearly lived by them. Collin Klein could rattle them off in order, out of order, by number, all in a matter of seconds if you wanted them too. They clearly defined him. Arthur Brown, even if he didn't speak much, clearly lived by them, always slipping one in during the few interviews that he did. They clearly defined him. This more than anything, showed how successful this team was going to be, even if it didn't mean wins. They were going to be successful in life, and as always, that is what great coaches like Snyder are much more concerned with teaching about anyway. I teach Biology at the high school level, and we always talk about how FORM fits FUNCTION. One thing is shaped that way SO THAT it will perform its particular function. It can't do anything else and it wasn't made to do anything else- you can't have one without the other. They form and function of life are intertwined. Just as Snyder's 16 goals are intertwined with success in life and football. This team was successful on the football field BECAUSE they bought into the 16 goals- you can't buy into the 16 goals and not be successful- you can't have one without the other. And K-State proved it on the football field.

Goal 6: Self-discipline- do right, and don't accept less

To belabor the point just a bit more, this wasn't even the most talented team K-State ever fielded. Sure, we have a battering ram for a QB who has improved his passing greatly, but has nowhere near the athletic ability of Michael Bishop or Ell Roberson. We have a solid running back in Hubert, but he is certainly no Darren Sproles. Few if any of these offensive lineman will go pro (and we've had plenty) and the same goes for the defensive line. Arthur is great, sure, but he and his surrounding linebackers are nowhere near the talents of the time when Jeff Kelly and Mark Simoneau lined up together or even Josh Buhl and Terry Pierce. And don't even get me started on how much better Terrance Newman is than anyone playing defensive back for K-State right now. Understand, I'm not trying to knock these guys- just showing how much buying into the 16 goals has really meant to a group that may not stack up athletically that also have 11 wins in K-State's past.

Goal 14: Consistency- your very, very best every time

And as if buying in and all that weren't enough, they performed amazingly throughout one of the toughest leagues in college football history. 90% of this league is bowl eligible- the highest in college football history. 80% of this league has 7 or more wins- the highest in college football history. The Big XII was the deepest league ever and Kansas State University is the champion of that league. Let that sink in for a minute. I saw this on the message boards some and agree- this team is better than 2003. Not athletically, perhaps, but emotionally, mentally, and consistently this team was better. The 2003 team played an amazing game against OU in that championship game, but nothing compares to doing so consistently throughout the season.

Goal 13: Expect to win- and truly believe we will

Finally, the buying in this team has done has made them better that the 1998 team as well- making them the best team in K-State history. The 1998 team went 11-0, one better than this one. They were consistent and beat down on teams just as much as they've done in 2012. The results, however, were different. And I barely even want to mention the 1998 championship game. Not because of how painful it was to lose the first and possibly only real shot at a national championship, but because I want to talk about what happened afterwards. The 1998 team wasn't able to bounce back from losing their national title hopes to Texas A&M in double overtime of the BigXII championship. They lost to Purdue in the Alamo Bowl, who was led by a young Drew Brees. However, after losing to Baylor by 4 touchdowns, this 2012 team WAS able to bounce back- and sometimes, that can be the most difficult thing in sports. Losing to Baylor but still coming back to Manhattan to beat Texas to win the BigXII championship is the greatest thing Snyder and his cats have ever done. Sure, Texas is a bit down, but they were ahead 10-7 at half and looked as if McCoy might just be their quarterback of the future. But K-State settled down and finally played to their potential, winning only their second BigXII Championship and winning 11 games for the first time since 2003. And you never know- perhaps a 12th win (it would be the most in K-State history) is in store. And it's because they bought into Snyder's 16 Goals.

Goal 12: No self-limitations- expect more of yourself

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Frank Martin Means to Me

First, to get some perspective. There are worse things in the world going on than the Frank Martin Saga. There are people who hate each other more than Frank and John Currie dislike each other. Nobody's life is going to be ruined if Frank leaves. Nobody's life is going to be ruined if he stays. No one is going to jail, going to die, or be tortured because of this decision. In the grand scheme of things, this really matters diddly.

However, most of what I read, write, and talk about matters diddly in the grand scheme of things as well. Probably even less than diddly, since it matters less what I think about this than maybe anyone else. I have never met Frank Martin and probably never will. He has no clue who I am and probably never will. We have very little in common. He is a father, basketball coach, gets paid millions of dollars, while I am none of these things. I am just getting started in my life, making little impact on those around me, while Frank matters to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, as evinced by Twitter this afternoon. Nevertheless, we do share something that matters to me (again, as insignificant as that is and as I am)- we both have loved being a part of the K-State family, and that, to me at least, means a bit more than diddly.

"About six years ago I interviewed for a job. Their average attendance was 127 people," Martin said. "There's a lot of jobs like that out there. I am blessed. I'm fortunate I got my first opportunity at such an incredible place."

When I was preparing to come to K-State, I had a high school teacher tell me we were about to experience the "Golden Years" of K-State sports - a new, young and energetic football coach (Ron Prince) and a proven, battle-tested, hard-nose basketball coach (Bob Huggins). Needless to say, neither of those worked out, but what I appreciated about Huggins, and about what we all still appreciate, was his willingness to come here in the first place, to leave it better than he found it, and to put K-State back on the map, if only for a short time. He left us with something K-Staters hadn't known in their basketball program for a long time - hope.

I had actually never experienced such a sensation when it came to K-State basketball, as I had been a K-State fan my entire life and only seen K-State beat KU once and only make the NCAA tournament when I was too small to remember. My hopes were crushed by Huggins leaving but soon revitalized by this assistant Huggins left us named Frank Martin. Unproven, but with a highly-touted recruiting class, we really didn't know what to expect. But Beasley and company gratified everyone with the greatest season for any one player in K-State history, beat KU in Bramlage for the first time ever (yes, I cried) and its first NCAA tournament win since the early 90s. The next year Beasley and Walker left and we were ready to see what Frank could do without them. An NIT bid wasn't much, but it was still more than we were used to, and then Frank really showed everyone with a NCAA tourney 2seed and an Elite Eight appearance - the first since 1988. Two years later and K-State has had two more NCAA victories, with varying degrees of success of course.

And through it all, I was there with so many K-Staters supporting, cheering, applauding, and most of all, hoping. To come back into perspective, this kind of hope is minimal compared to the hoping over hoping to get a job, hoping to find love, hoping to be successful, hoping to be happy. I had no control over this hope. Yet hope it remained. Hope that I was going to be there when K-State got back to the Final Four for the first time since the 1960s. Hope that K-State (or anyone, really) was going to finish ahead of KU in the Big XII standings. Hope that a coach would find love and peace and happiness in the same place I did - Manhattan, Kansas. Hope that maybe K-State mattered to more people than just the ones that grew up loving it like I did.

That last hope most certainly came true. During K-State's Elite Eight run, ESPN couldn't get enough of K-State and Frank's antics. Jacob Pullen, who became K-State's all-time leading scorer under Frank, kissed the court when he left Bramlage Coliseum for the last time. Frank continued to show that he wasn't just coaching these kids, he was preparing them for life, a life that would be full of future potential but also a life to remember where they came from and what made them who they were - Kansas State University.

"He came in as a freshman who thought he was the third pick of the NBA draft and he's getting ready to walk out with a college degree, as a man who is ready for life. And I don't get to coach him anymore. That's not fun." - Frank on how he had prepared Jamar Samuels, and about how he would miss him as a player.

Kansas State University, as the place my great-grandfather got a degree, the place my parents both got their degrees, as the team I rooted for as a little kid and as an adult still do, and as the place that I got my degree, matters a great deal to me. Sports matter a great deal to me, what they can do in the lives of young men and women who play and who watch. Frank Martin matters to me, for what he's done for K-State, for sports in general, for these young men he's coached, and for the HOPE that he's given all of us that things can always get better.

So no matter where Frank goes, I'll support him. He's earned that from us, for what he's done. It's his life, his decision, no one can make it save for him. Of course, I HOPE he picks one decision over the other, for whatever that's worth....

"Remember- hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." -The Shawshank Redemption

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bowl Recap & More Basketball

Okay, I know it's been awhile and everyone's moved on to basketball, but just a recap of my thoughts on the Cotton Bowl.

Get defensive stops: Absolutely yes. The defense was the only reason K-State was in this game. It might have even been the greatest defensive game of the season for K-State, holding the SEC's best offense almost 200 yards below their average and containing the SEC's best quarterback to one of his lowest outputs of the entire season. This is great news for next year, especially because leaders Arthur Brown, Ty Zimmerman, and Nigel Malone are all coming back. The bad news is Emmanuel Lamur, Tysyn Hartman, and Ray Kibble are all gone, though K-State has guys waiting to step in that should fill in all right. One of the biggest stories there is that highly recruited juco QB Justin Tuggle is making the switch to Linebacker, where he could make an immediate impact solely based on his athleticism. So look out for that next year.

Open up the playbook: Not really. I didn't see anything I hadn't seen before, though trying a flea flicker and reverse early in the game was a nice change of pace that just barely failed to work. The early offensive struggles (that were partly as a result of a few penalties that were questionable at best) was what put K-State in a hole here. They were unable to make up for that lost time, though in the second half they looked just as inept save on the opening drive of the half that looked like the K-State team we've been so used to seeing this year. Again, there is good news here because this offense that took advantage of every opportunity throughout the season is mostly back next year. Collin Klein may not put up the same numbers, but his decision making will only get better, and the same goes for John Hubert. Chris Harper is back, and don't forget about Freshman All-American Tyler Lockett who didn't finish the season because of an injury. Again, the future is bright.

Dominate on special teams: Absolutely not. This is where K-State lost this game no question. Arkansas dominated all day with field position and even had a punt return for a touchdown that really got their game going (again some questionable no-calls were made on this return, but them's the breaks. And K-State's been getting them all season, so maybe it was just time our luck ran out.) Once again, look for special teams to be even better next year with punter, kicker, and kick returners coming back next year.

So that's pretty much it for the game. I enjoyed Dallas/Arlington/Ft. Worth and I think most other K-State fans did too. The Arkansas fans were as nice as could be, as is my experience with other SEC fans, who are the very definition of southern hospitality (here's another area where Missouri does not fit the SEC resume haha). I was disappointed in the loss of course, but the fact that this team won 10 games is still amazing to me. The only thing I dislike about having a successful season like this is that it sets the bar pretty high for next year. Granted, O-State and Baylor lost their extremely talented QBs and overall the Big 12 is a big question mark for next year, but TCU and West Virginia are way better than A&M or Missouri, so that only makes the schedule tougher. Non-conference wise, K-State plays a couple of cupcakes at home (North Texas and Missouri State I believe) and then welcomes Miami to Manhattan for the return trip of a one-and-one. Again, if K-State wants to have another bowl appearance, it starts with that big game, just as it did next year. So look for that and much more next year. I'm excited.

Speaking of excited, this basketball season is yet another roller-coaster year in the tenure of Frank Martin. I wrote earlier about how K-State need to avoid the dreaded 0-4 start to Big 12 play. I also wrote about how they had a chance to win in Lawrence, but obviously I'd forgotten about how terribly every K-State team in my entire life has played in Lawrence. So yeah, forget about that. But then K-State beat undefeated Missouri and were up against Baylor until the very end. And of course I made the mistake of going to Norman expecting to beat Oklahoma. (Going to Norman wasn't a mistake - I had a lovely time with old friends named Tricia, Porter, Tumbleson and Billy and a new friend named Bobo - but expecting them to win was a mistake.) Lon Kruger had his team ready and K-State was obviously not ready. Or maybe it was Frank, who refused to play Angel or Diaz while JO and Martavious played sparingly all because of mistakes they'd been making in game and practice. The little they played and the minutes that Southwell, Victor, and Nino put in were the reasons for this loss. K-State couldn't stop OU from scoring and the only reliable scorer for K-State was Rodney, and Lord knows he tried, but there just wasn't enough he could do. K-State fell to 1-3 and all of a sudden there was a problem where there really hadn't been one. Sure, they'd made mistakes down the stretch that cost them against Baylor, but Baylor is a great team and losing that game was no shame. Frank created that problem, Frank made himself the focus of the team instead of the players, and once again I'm reminded of something I wrote about how basketball seasons reflect the posters for that season. Well look who's on this poster.

But then the Texas game came. And of course, #WeSTILLownTexas. And then K-State went to Stillwater and won for the first time there since 1993. And just yesterday K-State played the worst Big 12 basketball team I think I've ever seen in Texas Tech. Seriously, they have nobody. There was a stretch of time that K-State couldn't stop Texas Tech from getting the ball - TT got rebound after rebound, put-back after put-back, and yet nothing went in. K-State got the ball back and the score was unaltered. It was awful. K-State hasn't played particularly well on offense over these last couple of games, but that will need to change this weekend for the rematch with Oklahoma.

DO NOT LET OKLAHOMA BECOME THIS YEAR'S COLORADO. Last year we were a decent team but for whatever reason could not beat barely-better-than-mediocre Colorado. Sure, Colorado had a lot more talent than OU has this year. But OU has Lon Kruger for a coach and certainly has more talent than Texas Tech. They just need to be prepared. And key contributers Will and Angel have got to get off to better starts. We'll see if Angel or Diaz or JO or Martavious can make a bigger impact than last game against OU, or if OU truly has our number like Colorado did last year. I sure hope not. K-State needs to take advantage of games like this before difficult games like at Iowa State and at Texas really test them. Or obviously difficult road games against Baylor and Missouri and of course the home rematch with KU. It's gonna be a fun rest of the season, but trip up in the winnable games too much and it's going to cost them a tournament berth.

I also wrote last time about how the women always deliver an upset or two and sure enough, they delivered in their first Big12 game, knocking off defending national champion Texas A&M. The girls even went on to go 4-0 in the conference, beating a decent KU team on the road and a ranked Texas Tech team on the road. Then they came home and lost a winnable game to OU (sound familiar?), got drubbed by undefeated #1 Baylor and lost another winnable game at home to Iowa State. The girls struggle with depth, and when teams like Baylor and Iowa State take away K-State's best player in Brittany Chambers, the girls are in trouble. They play good defense most of the time, but when the scoring dries up they have to work even harder, and with few subs to give them rest it can turn ugly quickly. I still have faith they'll get a few more wins and may even make it to the tournament, but it's going to be close.

So that's all my K-State thoughts for now. I may write another Best Picture post later as the Academy Awards are coming up, but until then.... Go Cats!