So Kansas State probably won’t walk away with any major distinctions or championships this year, but head coach Bill Snyder has a few very bright stars with whom to work this year.
Let’s start with the obvious: the Brown brothers.
On December 17, 2007, Arthur Brown held a press conference at which he announced his decision to attend the University of Miami, choosing the Hurricanes over LSU, USC, Florida and North Carolina.
Brown was the top linebacker recruit in the country by most accounts and was one of the top overall recruits per many recruiting analysts. It was linebacker Sean Spence, though, who would prove the best defensive player in the Hurricanes’ 2008 class. The four-star Miami Northwestern product, who was ranked the 13th best linebacker prospect in the country in ’08 by Rivals.com, went on to earn ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in ’08 and was an All-ACC Second Team selection this past season.
Brown, on the other hand, struggled to crack the rotation and spent most of his ‘Canes career contributing on special teams in his two seasons at Miami. He eventually wound up enrolling at Kansas State in May of last year. He sat out the 2010 season per NCAA transfer rules, but he made news for his performance on the Wildcats’ scout team. He blew up in the spring, creating a buzz around Manhattan that the Wildcats had a special player who possessed exceptional athleticism and speed. He was named
to this year’s Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Watch Lists and will man the middle linebacker spot this season for a Wildcats defense that needs his playmaking ability.
Meanwhile, Arthur’s brother, running back Bryce Brown, was another highly-touted recruit who chose to leave his home state for the Lane Kiffin-coached Tennessee Volunteers. Brown saw playing time as a true freshman in a backfield that also included Montario Hardesty. Brown finished with 101 rushes for 460 yards and three touchdowns, including this monster in his college debut. He failed to eclipse 100 yards rushing after his 104-yard debut, but came away with a solid year nonetheless.
After the season, though, Kiffin bolted for his dream job at USC and Brown’s future with the program began to come into question as he did not participate in spring practice and eventually asked for his release from new head coach Derek Dooley. His request was denied, but Brown pursued other means of obtaining his release. According to GoVolsXtra.com and citing affidavits and a letter from Gregory Issacs, Brown’s attorney, Brown stated that he felt like he did not fit in with his teammates in Knoxville and
was even informed of three of his former teammates’—Nu’Keese Richardson, Mike Edwards and Janzen Jackson—intentions to rob a convenience store before the act, for which the three players were later arrested. Dooley’s refusal to release Brown from his scholarship meant that he had to pay his way to K-State. He sat out the 2010 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
Brown turned in a good spring this year, but has not run away with the starting job as he competes with John Hubert for the starting job. Brown compiled 73 yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats’ spring game with Hubert adding 79 yards and a score of his own. Brown is expected to eventually emerge as the featured back, but both are expected to see carries this season. Hubert could be used in the return game as well with running back/kick returner William Powell gone.
I’m far from the only one making a fuss about the Brown brothers and what their arrival on the K-State active roster might mean for the Wildcats, and two players—one on each side of the ball—is not nearly enough to translate into a meaningful season.
Despite Arthur’s emergence as a team leader from the middle linebacker spot, it’s the secondary that could end up being the strength of this team. With teams having little problem moving the ball on the ground, throwing the ball—even in the pass-happy Big 12—was not a huge necessity for many of the Wildcats’ opponents in 2010. The second half saw teams open up on the K-State secondary, though, as the Wildcats finished 2-4 after a 5-2 start.
Cornerback David Garrett was the team’s leading tackler last year and is one of the team’s best players. A little undersized at 5’8, Garrett will likely partner with JUCO transfer Nigel Malone, who was impressive in the spring. The safeties could emerge as one of the best starting pairs in the conference this season. Tysyn Hartman will line up at free safety and Ty Zimmerman will play strong safety after coming up with a very good freshman season in his debut. In his 2011 Big 12 position rankings, ESPN.com blogger David Ubben ranked the safety duo the fourth best, but was far less kind when ranking the cornerbacks dead last in the conference, noting that depth could be a concern. (For those wondering, Ubben ranked both the ‘Cats linebacker corps and running backs 8th in the Big 12.)
There are question marks throughout the Wildcats’ roster including at quarterback where Collin Klein is expected to take over for Carson Coffman, and on the defensive front where the line struggled to create a pass rush last season and failed to stop most teams from running the ball. You can always find reasons to be optimistic in the preseason, but until those questions are answered, it’s tough to say what we’ll see from the Wildcats this year and whether they could end up being better than we expect.