Kansas State is No. 1: Collin Klein and the most balanced squad in the nation

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

While it is easy to give all the credit for their 10-0 start to their Heisman front-runner quarterback, the Kansas State Wildcats should be praised as the most-balanced team in the country.

The more you watch Kansas State, the more you are impressed. Throughout the course of a game, head coach Bill Snyder never seems to make a call that head-scratching call that plagues so many of the nation’s coaches (see: Les Miles). The Wildcats know what they do well, they stick to it, and they win ballgames. Everything seems just that easy when watching the Wildcats roll through quality opponent after quality opponent the past few weeks.

In last weekend’s game against a solid TCU squad, it was another typical Wildcat victory. Execute early to build an early lead, lean on a incredibly underrated defense, and give Collin Klein just enough opportunities to make a backbreaking play and put the nail in the proverbial coffin. The main takeaway from KSU’s strong 23-10 victory was the balance the Wildcats displayed throughout the entire team.

Kansas State is not a squad that solely depends on its offense to light up the scoreboard. Nor is it a team that puts up just enough points each week before turning it over to a dynamite defense. KSU has a perfect blend of a good offense and a strong defense that simply pumps out quality win after quality win.

Let’s start with the offense. While Collin Klein is getting all the notoriety, and deservedly so, the Wildcats’ attack is much more than a one-man show. This unit averages a balanced 207.5 rushing yards and 213.6 passing yards per game and is chameleon-like in its formations and play calling. No matter what the defenses throw at them, the Wildcats can adjust and exploit the holes of the defense. Mixing in a balance of traditional offset I-formations, single-back two tight end formations, several three-, four-, and five- wide spread variations, and even a dose of the Wildcat, KSU creates endless headaches for opposing coaches.

Even better yet, the Wildcats are extremely balanced in their run/pass splits out of each formation. While some teams become extremely predictable when they line-up in particular formations, KSU seems to do an incredible job of self-scouting to ensure they do not fall into any formation tendencies and become predictable. Whether it’s a strong play-action game out of the offset I-Formation or running a quarterback lead draw out of a shotgun spread formation, the Wildcats make sure opponents are threatened across the board in every formation they show.

This past weekend, the Wildcats balanced attack was on full display midway through the third quarter. Comfortably enjoying a 13-0 lead, Kansas State faced a third-and-14 on their its 49-yardline. The Wildcats came out in a three-wide set with their tight end attached to the line-of-scrimmage. Keeping seven men in to protect against a four-man rush, Klein rolled to his right and scanned downfield for an open target. As the initial coverage stifled the three-man pass route, Klein bought extra time with his legs before finding an open Tyler Lockett for a 15-yard gain. With a new set of downs, the Wildcats lined up in a shotgun formation with two tight end and two wideouts. They then ran a read zone with Klein for a short, two-yard gain. The very next play, Kansas State once again lined up in a 3-wide set with their tight end attached to the line-of-scrimmage (the same set they just rolled Klein out for the 15-yard pickup) and ran a quarterback lead draw for a 34-yard touchdown and a 20-0 lead. With that, the game was over. Some run, some pass, a lot of formations, and a lot of success. That is the best way to sum up the Wildcats’ offense.

But the KSU offense isn’t the only balanced unit on the team. That term could easily be applied to their defense as well. A unit that doesn’t seem to have a weakness and never seems to put their offense in a hole, KSU combines a strong front-four that can pressure without blitzing, a ball-hawking secondary, and a sound linebacking core makes up one of the nations most underappreciated units.

Given the wide-open nature of the Big-12 conference, giving up yards comes with the territory. But what KSU’s defensive unit does not do, is give up many points. If someone were to explain the defensive philosophy Bend But Don’t Break, that person could simply run the game tape of the 2012 KSU defense. While the Wildcats may bend a bit and give up some yards, they rarely break and give up easy points. Just how good is KSU at limiting points against good offenses? Take a look at the chart below:

Opponent Season Avg. Against KSU Difference
Miami 28.5 13 -15.5
Oklahoma 39.8 19 -20.8
West Virginia 40.0 14 -26.0
Texas Tech 38.7 24 -14.7
Oklahoma State 43.9 30 -13.9
TCU 31.5 10 -21.5
Average -18.7

The KSU defense has held its six strongest opponents, on average, to 18.7 point per game below their season scoring average. With no true weakness to be consistently exploited, the Wildcats' opportunistic defense has played as big a role in their 10-0 start as their possible Heisman-led offense.

One cannot praise the job done by the Kansas State’s coaching staff enough at this point. Taking a bunch of middle-of-the-pack recruits and turning them into the nation’s No. 1 team is simply mind-blowing in this college football landscape.

Good teams always talk about winning the weekly turnover battle. Well, KSU is tied for first in the nation with Kent State with a plus-20 turnover differential. With two solid, but not spectacular, opponents remaining (at Baylor, vs. Texas), the balanced Wildcats look like a heavy favorite to appear in the BCS title game. If the title game were to match up KSU against the offensive-minded Oregon Ducks, the contest would pit one of the most balanced teams of recent memory against on the most offensive-heavy squads of the past decade. Other than Notre Dame fans, who wouldn’t want to see that?

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