Kansas State University

K-State Q&A: Alex Barnes, questionable punts, bowl games and basketball predictions

Kansas State running back Alex Barnes scores a touchdown against Iowa State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Kansas State running back Alex Barnes scores a touchdown against Iowa State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) AP

College basketball season starts today, so now seems like as good a time as any to predict Kansas State’s 2016-17 record.

Here goes.

I predict K-State to finish the regular season at 21-10 with a 9-9 mark in Big 12 play.

The Wildcats’ nonconference schedule is far from taxing, and I think they will start 11-1 with the only loss coming to Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic. The Big 12 won’t be as strong as it was last year, aside from Kansas, and K-State should be much more competitive with an older team. This looks like the year Bruce Weber gets K-State back to the NCAA Tournament.

Other predictions: Wesley Iwundu will be the team’s MVP, D.J. Johnson will flirt with all-conference honors, Xavier Sneed will be one of the league’s best freshmen, and Barry Brown will compete with Dean Wade for most improved.

Now, onto your questions. Thanks, as always, for asking them.

Captain Hindsight will tell you the punt was a bad idea, but after looking back on that disastrous sequence it was only about the fourth worst thing that happened to K-State.

Here’s the play-by-play:

First, Alex Barnes made a nice run on second-and-four that appeared to be good enough for a first down, but the officials marked the ball a yard short of the chains. The Wildcats could have called timeout, asked the officials to review the spot and gained a first down right then and there.

But they were still only one yard away on third down. Gaining the first down shouldn’t have been that hard. Except K-State called for a quarterback sneak out of a formation it rarely runs a sneak out of and got stuffed. Barnes was averaging nine yards per carry. Why not let him pick up the first down?

Then you have the fourth-and-inches when K-State decided to punt. It was a tough call, because a successful conversion would have gone a long way toward winning the game and K-State’s offense desperately wanted to attempt it. I think the smart play was to go for it. At the same time, K-State was leading 37-28 and Oklahoma State’s offense hadn’t done much in the second half. So punting wasn’t the worst decision in the world, especially when it pinned the Cowboys at their own 8.

The real problem was Dante Barnett getting fooled by a play-action fake, which allowed James Washington to get behind the defense for an 82-yard score. He was supposed to stay back and help backup corner Cedric Dozier. Instead, he left him on an island.

All of a sudden the lead was down to 37-35.

Then, K-State began its next drive with a seven-yard run from Barnes, only to follow it with two unsuccessful keepers from Jesse Ertz. Again, why not let Barnes keep churning out yards?

I count five errors in just that sequence that swung the game Oklahoma State’s way. It wasn’t just the punt.

I would certainly get him more than three touches a game, which is what he is currently averaging.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Alex Barnes has the highest yards per rush average on the team at 7.8 (Charles Jones is 5.7, Justin Silmon is 5.0 and Dalvin Warmack is 5.1) but he ranks fifth on team in carries with THREE PER GAME.

That needs to change immediately. Barnes has rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries without losing yardage on a single play. And did you see the block he made to spring Winston Dimel for a touchdown last week? Barnes should be leading K-State’s running backs in touches, not bringing up the rear.

Fifteen might be a bit much, given how crowded K-State’s backfield is. I don’t envy that staff having to split carries between four running backs that are averaging five-plus yards per carry. But he needs to be used more than he is. He’s the best running back on the team.

Best-case: 8-4. I think 7-5 is more realistic, given that winning at Baylor and TCU would be difficult for any team. But 8-4 is on the table. Baylor looks pretty much done. If the Bears lose big again this week to Oklahoma, as I suspect, they may lay down for the Wildcats next week. Kansas at home should be a win. Not sure what to make of TCU. The Frogs are normally tough at home, but they lost in Fort Worth to Texas Tech. But they also just dropped 60 on Baylor. So that game is a wild card.

Worst-case: 6-6. K-State could lose at Baylor and TCU, but I don’t see any way it loses at home to Kansas.

Most likely bowl game: There’s too much season left to accurately predict at this point. A lot depends on whether Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or West Virginia can qualify for the New Year’s Six Bowls. But K-State will probably end up in the Texas, Cactus, or Armed Forces Bowl. Right now, I would favor the Cactus. The Texas Bowl will have Texas teams to choose, K-State was in the Liberty Bowl last year and the Armed Forces Bowl is last in the bowl order.

K-State’s defensive backs need to do a better job keeping receivers in front of them.

That’s the biggest weakness I see right now. Duke Shelley gets caught too often trying to come up and shut down short passes at the line of scrimmage and Dante Barnett is much too eager to help against the run. Tom Hayes typically asks his defensive backs to play well off the line of scrimmage to prevent them from getting beat deep, but that hasn’t stopped them from cheating up.

The Wildcats have allowed 12 pass plays of 40-plus yards this season and 22 more of 20-plus yards.

That’s where they are losing games.

K-State is at its best when it makes offenses try to beat it with short gains and sustained drives. More often then not, that’s difficult for up-tempo offenses to do and they make mistakes the Wildcats can take advantage of. But that’s not possible when you give up huge gains.

Bottom six.

It feels weird writing that, because K-State actually leads the conference in total defense. But once you take away two and a half nonconference games against weak offensive teams, K-State falls to seventh in total defense (499.7 yards per game) and last in pass defense (369.5).

The Wildcats are great against the run and horrible against the pass. That needs to be the other way around in this conference.

Mitch Lochbihler should handle kickoffs regardless of when Matthew McCrane is healthy enough to kick again. If he’s not ready to go against Baylor, you will see Ian Patterson handling field goals.

I’m not exactly sure the extent of McCrane’s injury. He dressed against Oklahoma State and at one point appeared to try and show trainers he was healthy enough to kick, but Snyder says his status remains uncertain.

K-State big men and foot injuries certainly go together right now.

Makes you wonder if there is anything the team can do to avoid the sort of injuries that have left D.J. Johnson, Isaiah Maurice, Dante Williams and James Love in medical boots the past three seasons. Probably not. Seems like bad luck more than anything.

The Wildcats have practiced with Byron Pringle out of the wildcat formation for months, so I wasn’t surprised to see that against Oklahoma State. But it is odd they keep changing the wildcat QB. One week it’s Charles Jones, then it’s Winston Dimel, then it’s Alex Delton, then it’s Byron Pringle. What are you gaining with those switches? Dalvin Warmack has also practiced as the team’s wildcat QB, so maybe he will get snaps there against Baylor.

This season would actually be a great time for Kansas State and Wichita State to play. I think they are pretty even.

Wichita State has certainly been better of late, with Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet leading the team to a Final Four and an undefeated regular season. But things can change quickly in basketball. One good recruiting class is enough to vault one program past another. I think we will see both teams in the NCAA Tournament this season with similar seeds.

All I can say is that it will be a great wall and anyone who has $10,000 to burn can help build it.

The only frustrating part comes from lack of access.

Assistant coaches only speak to media twice a year (at preseason media day and before the bowl game) so you never get insight from coordinators. It would be great if we got to ask Dana Dimel and Tom Hayes questions after games or during the week.

Only certain players regularly speak with the media. Following Bill Snyder’s Tuesday news conference, we typically only get to interview a handful of players, and they aren’t always starters. This week we got tight end Dayton Valentine, running back Alex Barnes and defensive end Kyle Ball. Sometimes we get Justin Silmon, Jordan Willis, D.J. Reed, Elijah Lee, Abdul Beecham, Dante Barnett, Reggie Walker and Charles Jones, too.

Even then, it’s the same guys over and over and over.

Bless those players for being gracious with their time, but we never get the starting quarterback before a game, rarely get offensive linemen, never get receivers. I would love it if Snyder designated one day a week after practice for player interviews like some other programs do. That way, if I want to write a feature on, say, center Reid Najvar I can actually talk to him about his life instead of trying to ask a backup defensive lineman about him.

College football players benefit from speaking with media, and so do college football readers.

Weber talks a lot about recruiting players with winning backgrounds that display athleticism, but I think that’s really a cover. The first thing he really wants to see from a recruit is his hair. The Wildcats’ latest three additions will fit in well with Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra.

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett