August 28, 2008

There are plenty of reason for optimism

As the kickoff to Kansas State's 2008 football season nears, the pessimists seem to be everywhere. K-State will be awful. This junior college-laden recruiting class is a recipe for disaster. Ron Prince may be headed for a quick exit despite signing a new contract just a few weeks ago. I am here to tell you why the naysayers are wrong.

I am not about to predict an astonishing breakthrough season. While the Kansas State Wildcats tout their own optimism and speak of playing for a conference title, reality is that is unlikely. I'm not even sure I am willing to go where Playboy so boldly went this month by predicting an 8-4 record for the Wildcats. (It was good to actually read a Playboy article for once.)

Still, after last year's 5-7 season and torturous four-game losing streak to end the season, Prince's program is offering sure signs of new life. Sure, there are reasons to doubt. There is zero experience at running back, led by feel-good story Keithen Valentine. There remains questions on the depth chart despite the addition of juco impact players.

I will say, though, that I believe this is a bowl team. It may mean the holidays in Shreveport, but I do see positive signs from this group that they are going to put the program back on track and set the table for a breakthrough season in 2009.

For me, the reasons are numerous. Ten to be specific.

Virginia transfer Olu Hall defined K-State's speed perfectly well earlier this fall. Hall said he was one of the fastest players on Virginia's front seven, but now as one of K-State's starting outside linebackers, he is just another fast guy.

In other words, this K-State defense will fly to the ball and be athletically equipped to play against spread offenses.

"We have a fast team," Hall said. "Only positives can come out of this defense we're playing because fast guys will get to the ball faster."

Simple but so true.

OK, I know what the doubters say. K-State cannot replace Jordy Nelson, and no one on this team will replace all that Nelson did for the Wildcats during his record-breaking season. But no one needs to.

Different players will fill different Nelson roles, from punt returns to being quarterback Josh Freeman's go-to guy on third down to being the receiver willing to catch short passes and turn them into long gains.

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