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UCLA vs. Kansas State Cactus Bowl Coaching and Special Teams Preview: Wildcats Are Proud of Special Teams’ Performance

K-State’s special teams unit is one of the best in the nation.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching and special teams are two areas where Kansas State excels. Let’s start off our look at the Kansas State coaching staff and special teams with the Wildcats’ special teams.

Kansas State Special Teams

When the UCLA Bruins played Southern Cal this season, the Bruins suffered a serious special teams breakdown. Many of the players on the field were faked into thinking the punt had gone left when it actually went to the right.

The result was a touchdown for Southern Cal and that may have been the play that UCLA lost the game on considering that the final score was 28-23.

The Bruins will not be able to afford another special teams breakdown like that against the Kansas State Wildcats on Tuesday in the Cactus Bowl. That’s because the Wildcats pride themselves on their special teams play.

Both Phil Steele and ESPN rank Kansas State as the number one special teams unit in the country. The Wildcats are one of just three teams in the country that rank in the top 15 for both punt return average and kickoff return average. Kansas State is ranked 7th in the nation in punt return average, which is 14.78 yards per return while they are ranked 15th in the country in kickoff return average, which is 24.67 yards per return.

On top of that, this season was the 13th season in a row where the Wildcats had at least one kickoff return for a touchdown. That leads the nation and is five years longer than the next-closest school, according to an article on the official Kansas State website.

The Wildcat primary return men are juniors D.J. Reed and Byron Pringle. Reed has handle most of the punt return duties while the duo have returned almost an equal number of kickoffs. In 15 punt returns and 15 kickoff returns, Reed has returned both a punt return and a kickoff return for touchdowns and Pringle has returned one of his 14 kickoff returns for a score.

Meanwhile, senior Matt McCrane broke Martin Gramatica’s school record for career field goals made this season. In his career, McCrane has made 57 field goals. Gramatica’s old school record was 54.

McCrane has made 21 of 26 attempts this year and his long was 54 yards. He has made all 43 of his extra point attempts. It looks like McCrane is pretty solid under 50 yards, but he’s only hit 50% of his FG attempts over 50 yards.

The quality of the Wildcats’ special teams isn’t just in scoring. K-State has not given up a kickoff return for a touchdown in 62 games and a total of 239 kickoffs and they have not given up a punt return touchdown in 49 games and a total of 67 returns.

In other words, if this game comes down to special teams, then Kansas State seems like they have an advantage.

Let’s look at the K-State coaching staff.

Kansas State Coaching Staff

Of course, the Wildcats are coached by the legendary Bill Snyder. Of course, Snyder is well-respected throughout college football. That’s because he turned around a program that Sports Illustrated had dubbed “Futility U.” during his first stint as the head coach of the Wildcats from 1989 until 2005.

Snyder retired following the 2005 season and was replaced by Ron Prince. Prince’s hiring proved to be a disaster and three years later, Snyder returned to K-State for his second stint.

There were rumors that 2017 could be Snyder’s last season as K-State attempted to hire Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt as the head coach-in-waiting after last season. But, Snyder didn’t agree as he seems to want his son Sean, K-State’s special teams coordinator, to take over when he retires.

That plan was put together by K-State president Richard Myers and former K-State AD John Currie. Interestingly, Currie left Kansas State to become the AD at Tennessee only to be fired for his attempt to hire Ohio State assistant Greg Schiano as the Vols’ next head coach.

At this point, the only thing that’s for sure is that Snyder will probably coach at Kansas State for as long as he wants.

The Wildcats’ offense is led by offensive coordinator Dana Dimel. Dimel is in his final game with K-State because he has been hired as the new head coach at UTEP. While Dimel is ending his third stint as a Kansas State assistant, his offenses have been a big reason that the Cactus Bowl is the eighth straight bowl game for the Wildcats. Dimel also coached running backs and tight ends.

On the other side of the ball, Tom Hayes is the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator. Hayes, of course, is known to Bruin fans as an assistant coach at UCLA from 1980-1988. When he started in Westwood, he was the DB coach where he coached Bruin greats like Kenny Easley, Don Rogers, James Washington, Eric Turner and Carnell Lake. In addition to UCLA, Hayes has coached defense in both the collegiate and pro ranks. He has coached at Texas A&M, Stanford, Tulane (under former Bruin head coach Bob Toledo), Kansas, and Oklahoma in college and at Washington and New Orleans in the NFL. He is in his sixth season with the Wildcats.

Finally, we come full circle with the Wildcats’ Special Teams Coordinator Sean Snyder. In addition to coaching one of the best special teams units in the nation, Snyder also serves as Kansas State’s Assistant Head Coach and Director of Football Operations. Snyder has served on the K-State staff for 24 years and has been the Director of Football Operations for the past 21 years.

And, that wraps up our look at the Kansas State coaching staff and special teams as well as our Cactus Bowl opponent previews.

Go Bruins!