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He Said, She Said: Do the Cats have a ceiling?

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When Coach Melissa and Marsh get together, you know they're going to have a lot to talk about - and talk a lot. In this week's He Said, She Said they examine the ins and outs of Kansas State's program: can they win the big one and can they win post Snyder?

TCU will travel to the "Little Apple" this week to matchup with the Wildcats of Kansas State. While the Cats have given the Frogs fits in two of their three matchups on conference play, KSU has been historically average. Outside of the mastery by the Wizard of Manhattan, K State just doesn’t have much to hang their hats on through the years.  So that begs the question: is Kansas State the toughest place to win in the conference?

Coach Melissa: If it’s not the hardest place to build a program in the Big XII, it’s certainly up there. Manhattan, KS is in the middle of nowhere - it’s hours from an airport, a city, or a four star restaurant, and boasts a population that is only double that of the undergrad enrollment of their flagship university. It doesn’t have top-notch facilities, tradition, or good weather - and while the campus itself is actually quite stunning, it’s in the middle of Kansas, so… yeah. The football team has won two Big XII championships - which are also their only two conference championships since 1934. They have nine double digit win seasons since the early 90’s, a scant seven bowl victories (zero BCS wins), and have never won a National Championship. In fact, when you take out the Bill Snyder era(s), KSU had won only 137 games since 1935 before he took over (for the first time) in 1989. What Snyder did at K State was nothing short of incredible, taking one of the most moribund programs in the country and turning them into a competitive team that landed just short of the precipice on multiple occasions. Mind you, I am not saying the Cats aren’t a good program or that Kansas State isn’t a wonderful university, but can you think of a tougher place to draw top flight talent than the ‘other’ Manhattan?

Marsh: It’s two hours from Kansas City, and four hours from St. Louis; there’s not a lot going on in Manhattan, and like the SEC, that’s what makes it such a difficult place to play. Would I rank it No.1 in the Big 12? Probably not. You have some really hard places to play in the Big 12; Morgantown is probably the most difficult, then Lubbock, then Stillwater, then Norman, then maybe Waco, Ames and Austin are tied--despite the latter having infinitely better facilities, and then Lawrence. (I’m not including Fort Worth in this discussion, by the way). Manhattan may fall in between Stillwater and Norman. Still, playing in the Little Apple in late October, or November, would be a much tougher environment. Frogs don’t like the cold and that was seen last year in Lawrence and in Morgantown. Like I said above, and it’s not a knock, nothing really goes on there. People who are there are there for football, so their minds are focused on one thing. That helps a lot with crowd energy. Despite their good record, spirits for the football team may not be that high for Snyder’s squad, but I fully expect a very intense atmosphere Saturday night. If you’re the home team, playing at night against the No. 2 team, you’d be crazy to think that stadium will be anything short of intense.

Coach M: Ok, I will give you that Manhattan, and more specifically Bill Snyder Family Stadium, being a tough place to play. And that does make for a challenging environment for an opposing team. But do you think that’s enough of an advantage to allow the Cats to compete at a high level in Big XII play, and more specifically - to draw top talent to the middle of nowhere?

Marsh: Bill and Kansas State will always be competitive and every three or four years, they’ll have a legitimate run at not only a Big 12 title, but a National Title as well. Baylor spoiled that for them in 2012, so maybe in 2016 or 2017, they’ll get another run. There’s clearly more talent in Texas, it’s just a numbers game. Gary Patterson, Kingsbury, Sumlin, Strong, and Briles are all at advantage that Snyder doesn’t have. There are plenty of great players in Kansas, and Snyder has a chance at all of them even if they’re not Leonard Fournette. The Wildcats are also so disciplined; not committing penalties is huge when it comes to winning on a consistent basis. They make it work with what they’ve got and that’s what makes Bill Snyder one of the greatest ever.

Coach Melissa: Bill Snyder has done incredible things in Manhattan, that’s undeniable. But he has never quite summited the mountain - with only two conference championships under his belt to go with seven bowl wins (none in a BCS game, though they do have three appearances). It might just be that Kansas State under Snyder is a good to very good team, that never quite gets over the hump to greatness - and that’s okay.

Marsh: Do you think Snyder has any magic without a Collin Klein or a Tyler Lockett?

Coach Melissa: This season, with as big a rebuild on the docket as any P5 team, it appeared he might early on. The Cats didn’t have the toughest preseason schedule, but they looked as scrappy and dangerous as ever, as they rolled to a 3-0 start on the strength of a dominating run defense and a pretty good ground game of their own. When you factored in that they lost starting QB Jesse Ertz before the season really even started, it was all the more impressive. While they didn’t possess a guy that looked like he could take it to the house at any moment - there’s nothing close to a Tyler Lockett on this roster - there was the glimpse of something special when wide receiver turned quarterback Kody Cook came in for an injured Joe Hubener and lit up the scoreboard before getting knocked out of the game himself. Bill Snyder will have something up his sleeve for the Horned Frogs; while I don’t think TCU needs to be on upset alert per se, the Cats are going to knock off a big name program before the year is up - I just hope it doesn’t happen this weekend.

Marsh: Who should take over for Snyder? Someone who’s going to do Snyder ball, or someone who’s going to shake things up a bit?

Coach Melissa: That’s a great question - and without knowing much about Bill Snyder’s coaching staff, it’s hard to answer. Kansas State has survived, and to a degree thrived, in a Big XII that has evolved in to a conference that throws it around and thrives on offense. The Cats haven’t had many plus quarterbacks behind center in the Bill Snyder era - Chad May was an All-American in the early 90’s, Michael Bishop was a stud and Heisman contender, and Collin Klein had some special moments - but none of those guys were the big armed gunslingers that the conference has hung its hat on for the last decade and a half. And, as we talked about earlier, Manhattan is kind of a tough sell to kids that grow up with more attention on them and their talents than ever. I almost think to replace someone as legendary as Bill Snyder - who has his name on the stadium - you have to go a different direction. Go young, go wide open, go with his polar opposite - because it’s going to be impossible to replace a man who IS that program. In my mind, a Lincoln Riley, or god-forbid Sonny Cumbie, type guy would have the energy and attractiveness from an offensive standpoint to keep the K State train rolling.

Coach Melissa: Speaking of Snyder, how much longer do you think he stays in the Little Apple? He celebrated his 76th birthday this week; might he be close to hanging it up - again?

Marsh: Happy Birthday, Trill Bill! Man, I don’t know. Knowing Kansas State, they’ll probably have someone in waiting pretty soon. I’m not a fan of Liverpool, but they just hired a coach named Jurgen Klopp, who came from the German club Borussia Dortmund. That would be like an Air Raid guy going to Nebraska or something. As much as I know that the Wildcats will stick to the kind-of system they have now, it would be cool to see them go to a more modern approach. Either way, I’m loving and cherishing all the Bill I can right now.