October 16, 2011

Bill Snyder has Kansas State winning on scoreboard, not stats

Bill Snyder is worth points for Kansas State.

It is appropriate that the nation's wackiest numbers, on a regular basis, are posted in the Big 12 during college football season.

Not only does the 10-member league have a numerically incorrect name, it is home to several of the NCAA's elite offensive playmakers. No. 6 Oklahoma State leaned on some of them Saturday to become the first school in 100 years to defeat Texas in Austin in consecutive seasons (Oklahoma last turned the trick in 1910 and 1911).

But that isn't the craziest number of the week in the Big 12. Neither is Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles' 326 career catches, an NCAA record, or the fact that No. 17 Texas A&M produced 681 yards and needed zero punts in a 55-28 victory over Baylor.

Instead, check out these stunning numbers: An undefeated Big 12 team climbed Sunday to No. 12 in The Associated Press poll despite giving up more yards each week (345.7 avg.) than it gains (336.2 avg.).

Among the nation's 120 FBS schools, Kansas State ranks 58th in scoring offense (29.3 avg.) and among the bottom 25 percent of teams in total offense (94th), passing offense (114th) and passing defense (93rd).

Yet the 12th-ranked Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 in Big 12) have translated those pedestrian statistics into a share of the conference lead at the midpoint of the season.

K-State needs only to beat Kansas (2-4, 0-3) in Saturday's cross-state matchup to reach 7-0 for the first time since 1999 and set up a high-stakes showdown against No. 3 Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0) on Oct. 29 in Manhattan, Kan.

Why is K-State, a team picked to finish eighth in the preseason media poll, emerging as a surprise contender in a league where every other school besides OU, OSU (6-0, 3-0) and A&M (4-2, 2-1) already has at least two losses in conference play?

Two words: Bill Snyder. And two more: Turnover margin.

Mix in the impact of linebacker Arthur Brown, a transfer from Miami who is a Big 12 Newcomer of the Year candidate, and that pretty well covers it.

Snyder, the Wildcats' 72-year-old coach, has ranked among college football's elite sideline strategists for more than two decades. Dubbed as college football's "coach of the century" by Barry Switzer for his efforts in making K-State football relevant in the 1990s, Snyder remains the only coach in the Big 12 who clearly is worth points to his team on game day.

That's no shot at Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Texas' Mack Brown or anyone else. It's simply an acknowledgement that no coach in college football squeezes more production from his available talent than Snyder.

Five of K-State's six victories have come by seven points or less, including all three wins in Big 12 play. The closer the game, the more likely Snyder's team is to prevail.

It is no accident that K-State ranks 11th nationally in turnover margin, at plus-6 for the season. Among Big 12 teams, only OSU (plus-12) ranks higher.

The season's biggest turnover belongs to Brown, whose interception set up the game-winning field goal in a 36-35 victory over Baylor on Oct. 1. Brown, who leads the team in tackles (45) and tackles for losses (4.5), added seven stops in Saturday's 41-34 victory over Texas Tech.

In that one, the Wildcats used a 4-0 edge in turnovers to offset a 580-339 shortfall in total yards. K-State also scored touchdowns on an interception return (Nigel Malone, 24 yards) and a kickoff return (Tyler Lockett, 100 yards) while grabbing its first win in Lubbock since 1997.

Snyder said he has "great appreciation" for his team's resiliency and perseverance in reaching a 6-0 record despite a limited offense and an unheralded roster. K-State erased a 28-20 halftime deficit to beat Tech.

"It's not the first time they have come back," Snyder said. "But to do it time and time again is an extremely positive thing. I appreciate their effort, I appreciate their toughness. I think that's their mantra, so to speak, the mental toughness it takes to play these games throughout... and not get ahead of ourselves."

K-State linebacker Tre Walker said players kept reminding themselves they were "down but not out" during halftime in Lubbock despite being outgained in total yards 387-92 in the first 30 minutes.

"Nobody was pouting or putting their head down or giving up," Walker said. "We're a tough football team. We're going to fight to the end, no matter what. We don't even look at the scoreboard."

For six consecutive games, the scoreboard numbers have favored K-State. Even if the statistical numbers frequently have suggested otherwise.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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