Kansas State should contend for Big 12 Football Championship + optimism high for better Days at Kansas and Missouri

KU-MU-KSU football

One has high aspirations, another is hoping to continue recent moderate progress and the third is hoping to make a quick turnaround from recent failures. That’s the story line for the area’s Division I football programs.

Kansas State’s football program is dreaming of a landmark season, with the goal of bringing home the league crown. The Kansas football program has only won two games the last two seasons, and 14 over the last seven campaigns, but there’s optimism in Lawrence that hasn’t been there in several years. Missouri’s football program is hoping a 4-8 season in 2016, in coach Barry Odom’s first season, is an aberration, not the start of a trend.

KANSAS STATE WILDCATS FOOTBALL

K-State is used to exceeding outside expectations. The Wildcats were picked eighth last year in the Big 12 preseason poll, but finished fourth. The Cats realistically have a chance to earn their third conference championship under coach Bill Snyder. Snyder is not concerned high expectations will affect his team.

“We’ve never approached a season any differently than another,” he said. “And the idea that, if you do have a certain number of people returning—which we have a reasonably large number returning, players, starters in the program—it’s not about who you have back or how many you have back, it’s really about how you prepare yourself game by game. That’s the important thing for us.

“My caution to our players and to anybody that would listen would be not take anything for granted. You still have to do it.”

Kansas State has 14 returning starters, plus both kickers. The biggest question mark on defense is all three 2016 linebacker starters are gone.

However, the biggest topics of conversation this off-season have nothing to do with football. The dominant topic has been the health of the 77-year-old Snyder. But unlike in past seasons when the question was how much longer did he want to coach, this year it became how much longer can he coach. He underwent treatments for throat cancer this winter. There was a lot of concern among Kansas State fans that he had coached his last game.

It doesn’t appear that that will be the case. At Big 12 Media Days, he said he is doing “fine.” But until he is spotted on the sideline September 2 against Central Arkansas, there will be an element of doubt.

Another off-the-field distraction in June was Snyder’s mishandling the transfer of Wildcats wide receiver Corey Sutton, which created a ton of bad publicity.

A third off-the-field topic of conversation was the July announcement by offensive lineman Scott Frantz, who started 13 games last year, that he is a homosexual. Kansas State was proactive in stating Frantz’ teammates and coaches were supportive. K-State will be tested again for outside distractions.

Four Wildcats received preseason all-Big 12 honors: juniors Winston Dimel (fullback), Dalton Risner (offensive line) and D.J. Reed (defensive back) were joined by sophomore Reggie Walker (defensive line).

The Cats’ streak of seven straight bowl appearances is almost guaranteed to continue. But they are aiming higher than that. They are hoping things fall into place like they did in 2012 when they won their last Big 12 championship, which could mean a berth in the Final Four, the NCAA football playoffs.

KANSAS JAYHAWKS FOOTBALL

Kansas has no realistic dreams of competing for the league title, but after beating Texas in the penultimate game last season, coach Dave Beaty is optimistic a bowl game is in the not-too-distant future.

“We expect to go to a bowl game (in 2017),” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. “That’s big talk, but we have to go do it.”

While that is a stretch, considering how bad they’ve been, improvement is not.

“Before we look at benchmarks we’ve got to look at how we’re going to get there,” Beaty said at Big 12 Media Days. “And the benchmarks are not going to be any different, really, for us than they are for other programs.

“We want to win championships. We want to play in bowl games. We want to produce productive men, who are good for our society—and that is what is going to cause the byproduct of winning championships.”

A lot of the optimism is because of a stout defense, led by Big 12 Conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Dorance Armstrong Jr.

Armstrong had 10 sacks in 2016 (fifth in FBS) and 20 of his 56 tackles last fall were behind the line of scrimmage. He also forced three fumbles.

“He’s more than deserving of these preseason accolades,” KU defensive lineman Daniel Wise said. “He went out there and proved it last year. He has a lot more to prove this year and he’s hungrier than ever.”

Armstrong is not the only player who has Jayhawks fans excited. Sophomore safety Mike Lee was named on Rivals’ freshman All-America team. They are among six Jayhawks on Athlon’s preseason all-Big 12 teams. Wise, offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji, wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. and linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. are the others.

Beaty is doing things the right way in Lawrence. The depth of despair he inherited two years ago—the Jayhawks haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2009—will take time to reverse.

MISSOURI TIGERS FOOTBALL

The jury is out at Missouri, where Odom needs to make big improvements from last year. Anything short of a bowl game will be a huge disappointment in Columbia. With four winnable non-league games (home vs. Missouri State, Purdue and Idaho, and at Connecticut) on the schedule, the Tigers would only need two Southeastern Conference victories to qualify for a bowl.

They host South Carolina, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee in conference, with winnable games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt. They closed 2016 with two victories in their last three games. So Mizzou has a little momentum on its side. With all that in mind, winning six is very possible.

“We did a very, very thorough self-evaluation when the season was over on who we were and why we didn’t achieve the things we wanted to,” Odom said SEC Media Days. “I didn’t do a good enough job as the head coach getting us ready to win games. (We’ve) got a lot of guys coming back. I think we have a tremendous staff. I am going to make a lot of wrong decisions. There is no doubt about it. They know that, and they’re going to make me right. We have a group of those guys in the room that do it every day. And I’m excited to go to work with them again this season.”

The Tigers are tabbed for last in the geographically challenged SEC East Division, behind Kentucky and Vandy. That’s right where they finished last season.

Missouri has earned its reputation as one of the best programs in the country in producing NFL-caliber defensive linemen. This year’s Tigers squad looks to continue that trend with Marcell Frazier and Terry Beckner.

On the offensive side, wide receiver J’Mon Moore and lineman Paul Adams are on the All-SEC preseason second-team , while running back Damarea Crockett is on the fourth team. Johnathon Johnson is the third-team punt returner.

Last season, 12 of the SEC’s 14 teams played in bowl games. If Missouri is not on that list this season, Odom’s coaching seat will start to get warm.

 

For more on KC’s three D1 teams, check out our Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri pages and be sure to subscribe for a FREE digital copy of our monthly magazine on the home page.

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Article by David Smale

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