THE EXPECTATIONS for Collin Klein are, well, different.After all, he's a quarterback in the Big 12. Doesn't that conjure up visions of drop-back passers and of 300-, 400- and even 500-yard passing games?But that's not Klein. Shoot, the guy's never had a 300-yard passing game, much less a 400 or a 500. Put it this way: His career-high is 281 yards. That's but 6 yards more than Geno Smith had a week ago in what was widely considered an utter failure, perhaps one of his worst games ever.In fact, consider West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen's take on Klein, the Kansas State quarterback his team faces Saturday night at Mountaineer Field. It's spoken with equal parts incredulity and respect.
"You look at [Klein] throwing the ball and it doesn't look very good,'' Holgorsen said. "But it goes exactly where they want it to go.''Indeed, that's the great contradiction here with the guy who has been tagged with one of the great modern nicknames in college football. Yes, Optimus Klein is primarily a running quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds and with just enough speed and deceptively effective moves, he's perhaps the best in the game.But he's no one-trick pony, and he gets a little miffed that people consider him in that vein."A lot goes into an efficient passing game,'' Klein said, proceeding to explain nuances of all sorts that contribute to a passing game, not the least of which is an emphasis on throwing the ball. "We've not always chosen to emphasize them, but this year we've improved in all those areas.''
That Klein cannot - or at least does not - throw the ball with the same sort of regularity as most of the other quarterbacks in the Big 12 doesn't really seem to bother him. After all, there are plenty of things he can do that most of those other guys can't. How many quarterbacks run for 27 touchdowns in a season, as Klein did last year?But that there are those who would sell short his ability to throw the ball when necessary, well, that amuses Klein. At the Big 12's preseason media event in Dallas in late July, someone asked Klein if he thought he could be a 2,500-yard passer?"How many?'' Klein asked, not sure if he'd heard right or not. He had."Well, I'm not going to put any limitations on what we can do,'' Klein said, turning the question into one not so much about his passing as Kansas State's prospects. "I think we can be pretty good.''
A few minutes later, after the original questioner had left, Klein was nudged a bit on the 2,500-yard passing question. He'd answered it pretty straightforwardly, but you could tell he was miffed a bit to be asked if he thought he could throw for less than half the yards it would likely take to lead the league."That's a very astute observation,'' Klein said with a chuckle.But here's the thing about Klein: He knows he's not a great passer. He knows he's never going to be Smith or Landry Jones or Seth Doege. But give the guy some credit. Like Holgorsen said, when he throws it, the result is exactly what Klein and the Wildcats want. He's thrown for nearly 1,100 yards in six games. Over 13, he's got a chance to reach that 2,500 mark. More importantly, it's been enough to get the Wildcats to 6-0 and No. 4 in the nation.
In a lot of ways, Klein fits in perfectly at Kansas State, and that's not just because his style of play fits the deliberate, no-flash style of coach Bill Snyder. Again, go back to the question of whether he was capable of throwing for 2,500 yards in a season, which would be fewer than what, roughly 70 percent of the starting quarterbacks in America? Give the guy some credit, for crying out loud.He fits at Kansas State because the expectations of the Wildcats - like the expectations of Klein as a passer - are generally lower than what they probably should be. Consider that a year ago Kansas State won 10 games and had Klein and 11 other starters back. Yet in the league's preseason media poll, K-State was picked to finish in the bottom half, sixth, of the league standings.Klein is at a loss to explain that, too."I really don't know the answer to that,'' Klein said. "That's probably above my pay grade.''What isn't above Klein's pay grade is quarterbacking a team that has crashed its way into both the Big 12 and the national championship picture. Talk all you want about what one-loss teams might most deserve a chance to play in the BCS title game, but that's assuming two or more teams - an SEC survivor, Oregon, Kansas State perhaps - aren't no-loss teams. Kansas State is seldom mentioned in that group, even with a top Heisman Trophy contender and a top-5 ranking.What people think of the Wildcats in general and Klein in particular, though, really doesn't matter to Optimus Klein.
"I've heard it many times. There are people who will think you're great and those who think you're terrible,'' Klein said. "And ultimately all that really matters is how we come together and execute on Saturday afternoons and how we prepare to be able to do that. And that's something we can control. We can't control what people think of our team, how good we are or how bad we are.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.