Kansas State University

K-State has a formula that leads to big things

K-State quarterback Jake Waters returns with more confidence for his senior season.
K-State quarterback Jake Waters returns with more confidence for his senior season. The Wichita Eagle

Imagine a world in which you could accurately predict a college football team’s future.

No more analyzing schedules. No more scouring the Internet for information. No more feeding statistics into computers until they spit out numbers that make sense. No more guessing.

Sound good?

Well, you’re in luck. Such a world may already exist – at least for those of you trying to forecast Kansas State’s upcoming season. Over the years, a mathematical formula has taken shape that has consistently produced the same successful result for the Wildcats.

The inexact science looks like this: Bill Snyder, plus a returning full-time starter at quarterback, equals 11 victories.

Test it out for yourself. The last five times Snyder, K-State’s longtime coach, has welcomed back his leading passer from the previous season, the Wildcats have won 11 games. It happened in 1998 with Michael Bishop, 2000 with Jonathan Beasley, 2002 and 2003 with Ell Roberson, and then again in 2012 with Collin Klein.

Combine Snyder with a quarterback he trusts, and big things happen.

Dating back to 1989, Snyder’s first year in Manhattan, he has gone 70-32 with a returning full-time starter at quarterback. Throw out his first two seasons, rebuilding efforts even with the experienced Carl Straw at quarterback, and he has gone 64-16. Expand the research to include proven returning quarterbacks – obvious up-and-comers destined for the starting job – and his record is 111-39-1.

The numbers illuminate a trend that bodes well for senior quarterback Jake Waters, who threw for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.

“The expectations we put on ourselves are way higher than last year and way higher than anything anyone else is going to put on us,” Waters said. “We are a very confident group with what we have coming back, but we also know how hard we have to go out and work to win. We have a chance to be a special team.”

Gaining confidence

That belief took shape near the end of last season. Though K-State started 2-4, it won six of its final seven games and beat Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It was the program’s first bowl victory since 2002.

That was a meaningful game, as it launched the Wildcats into the offseason with momentum. But no one enjoyed it more than Waters.

After an up-and-down junior season in which he split snaps with former quarterback Daniel Sams, he seized control of the starting job for good with a masterful performance.

The Iowa Western Community College transfer, who didn’t even receive a walk-on offer from a four-year college out of high school, completed 21 of 27 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 42 yards on 12 carries. K-State scored touchdowns on its opening three drives and won handily. It was as if Waters could do no wrong.

What led to the breakout effort? A game-winning drive against TCU and a 348-yard passing day against Oklahoma served as foreshadowers. So did his strong arm and his bond with star receiver Tyler Lockett. Still, Waters says the answer is simpler. He no longer considered himself a first-year quarterback.

“I really found my confidence that game,” Waters said. “I prepared so well, because we had so much time. I saw every defense they ran. I knew what they were going to run and I knew what checks to go into against everything they were doing. I never saw anything the coaches hadn’t prepared me for. So once I got there it was all about executing, and that part was easy.”

He expects to play that well every week as a senior. Snyder will give him every opportunity.

History shows that Snyder is willing to open things up and take risks with quarterbacks he trusts. When Klein was a senior, Snyder let him call his own plays and operate out of an empty backfield. At one point, he even tried a behind-the-back pass.

It didn’t all work, but the coach-quarterback relationship led to a Big 12 championship. And Klein was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Snyder is building a similar trust in Waters.

“Jake is the type of guy you can bank on,” Snyder said. “I saw his confidence level rise through the season and I saw it rise during the spring and I see it rising now. He has that value system where he will not take his performance level for granted. He has quite certainly enhanced his playing ability and his confidence, but he will never say, ‘I have arrived.’ He will keep working to improve every single day.”

Lockett and a deep receiver corps will help. Their expectations are also high.

“The sky is the limit for him,” senior receiver Curry Sexton said. “Being in the system for another year and being the guy all spring, summer and another camp. … His confidence is really high right now. He has implanted himself within the system and learned the offense inside and out. Jake was really good last year, but he is going to be a lot better this year.”

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Learning the system

When Waters thinks back to the mistakes he made a year ago, he shrugs most of them off as growing pains. Playing quarterback in the Big 12 is different than playing quarterback in junior college. It took Waters a full year to adjust.

“Last year coming in as the new guy was tough,” Waters said. “Even though I was the quarterback along with Daniel, I was reserved in my leadership. My head was still spinning a little bit with the playbook, too. I was nervous coming into camp, and I wasn’t confident in myself.”

K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has coached countless quarterbacks through the same struggles. Some have acclimated quickly. Others have taken years.

The main thing he stressed with Waters was to learn the playbook inside and out. Once that happened, Dimel told him, everything else would fall into place.

“We have such a complex system and we put a lot of demands on the quarterback,” Dimel said. “We are not just running up to the line of scrimmage and saying, ‘We are going to out-athlete you.’ A lot of offenses nowadays don’t care what they call. They are just calling a play to call a play as fast as possible and it’s got some options to it and they are hoping one of the options comes open.

“That’s not our offense. We run fewer plays than just about every team in the country, so we can’t run bad plays. We can’t afford to. Our quarterback has to be a general.”

That can be a tall order for any newcomer.

It took Klein three full years to master K-State’s offense. Now an assistant on Snyder’s coaching staff, Klein is glad to be the teacher.

“There are so many moving parts that it takes time,” Klein said. “You need a couple years to get used to it before you can play at a high level. Jake has figured things out quickly, and that experience is paying off huge.”

That much is already noticeable.

“Today, when we are in the huddle, he is just calling off things,” Dimel said. “He’s got his calls we are out of the huddle and we are moving downfield. The whole time I’m like, ‘Wow.’ At this time last year he wasn’t close to anything like that.”

Waters 2.0

Waters started in 13 games as a junior and won eight. Not bad for a newcomer, but he knows more is expected.

Just don’t tell him about K-State’s history of winning 11 games with an established passer. He would prefer to live in a world where victory totals can’t be accurately predicted in August.

He doesn’t want to win 11 games. He wants to win every game.

“You have to set your sights high if you want to be a leader,” Waters said. “This is my offense and I am the guy who is going to lead us. If I don’t like something about the way a workout or a practice is going, I will say something. If I want a receiver to run a route differently, I will tell him. I am not afraid to stand up and say something the way I was last year. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to win.”

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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