Manhattan, KS- Following their most successful season since the 2003 Big 12 Championship, K-State is back this season hoping to improve on last years Cotton Bowl performance. Back is undoubted MVP Collin Klein, and back are All Conference performers, Arthur Brown and Nigel Malone. But gone are Zach Hanson, Colton Freeze, Clyde Aufner, and more notably Tyson Hartman and David Garrett. So how does K-State attempt to repeat that 2011 magic?
It starts in the trenches. The key to K-States success will most notably rest on the shoulders of the 5 starting offensive lineman. The Cats return First Team Freshman All American Center BJ Finney, and stand out Right Guard Nick Puetz, but the rest of the starting 5 has moved on due to graduation. Cornelius Lucas is expected to play a starring role at one of the two tackle positions due to his sheer size. Lucas is the largest member of the Wildcat football team. Standing at 6 foot 9 and weighing in at 324 pounds. Lucas’s development could go a long way in deciding the Wildcats season. As for the rest of the line, RS Freshman Cody Whitehair, Tavon Rooks, Keenan Taylor, and Boston Stiverson, if he stays on the team, should battle it out for the rest of the playing time. The key to the offenses success will rely, on how much time they can give Klein to throw, and keeping Klein healthy.
As for the backfield, Collin Klein will play the role of Bill Snyders signal caller for the second year in a row. Since 1994, Bill Snyder has never won any less than 9 games when returning a Senior Quarterback. Jump to 1998, and that number is even more staggering. Under Senior Quarterbacks: Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley, and Ell Roberson, in 1998, 2000, and 2003 respectively, Snyders team made an appearance in the Big 12 championship each year. Including a Big 12 Championship in the ever memorable 2003 Championship game. This year Klein will look to continue that success, but the big question is has Klein’s passing game improved to the next level. Last year Klein was no slouch throwing for 1918 yards and 13 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions. If Klein can produce even half his rushing total, 1141 yards and 27 touchdowns, K-State could be headed for another great year.
Klein will be playing pitch and catch this year with virtually the same cast of characters. K-State returns Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson, Curry Sexton, and the every special Tyler Lockett. But most of the attention will lie on former Oregon Duck Chris Harper. Harper is K-States leading returning receiver, and for a good reason. Harper is big strong and fast. The next improvement to Harpers game is getting behind the defense, and with that more YAC. Harper has for most of his career been a possession receiver. If Harper can get behind the defense more often this year, see 4th quarter Touchdowns vs Eastern Kentucky and Texas A&M, it will be real easy for K-State to extend the field. Thompson, Lockett, and Sexton are all very solid receivers and if any of the 3 can take it to the next level, this could be K-States deepest position.
Joining Klein in the backfield will be John Hubert once again. Last year Hubert carried the ball 200 times, compared to Klein’s 317. This year, the numbers should be more balanced. The K-State offense should be more dynamic this year, so Klein does not have to power his way to 317 carries. Hubert, none the less, should have an even bigger year for the Cats this year. Expect Hubert to go over 1,000 yards this year, with all the attention going to stopping Klein. Angelo Pease, should also see more carries this year. The Senior “Wildcat Quarterback” has already added size and speed to his game and should compete for carries with Hubert.
Although the Wildcat defense finished 72nd last year in total YPG allowed, the Cat defense had a lot to do with K-States success a season ago. Most will remember the Cats resilience in late game situations, most notably in wins against Miami and Baylor. But at other times the defense struggled notably, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M.
K-States defense improved a lot from 2010-2011, most notably against the run. When the Cats played Nebraska for the last time, they were able to easily open up huge gaps in the K-State defense and run with ease. Oh what a season of work can do. K-State improved significantly against the run, courtesy of Arthur Brown. The K-State front 7 was extremely good a season ago, and they will need to do the same this year if K-State wants to compete for championships. Brown, a 2011 First Team All Big 12, lead K-State with a remarkable 101 tackles last season. The speed Brown possesses is easily enough to take him to the next level, but K-States success will depend more on the play of the 4 defensive lineman in front of him. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis are solid at the end positions. The play of John Sua and Vai Lutui must plug up holes if K-State wants to succeed. Both are under 300 pounds, but their speed should be enough to get the job done. Tre Walker and Jarrell Childs should fill out the front 7. It is easy to see this Wildcat team is looking to replace a lack of size, with sheer speed. That speed might be enough to turn this defense into the second coming of the Lynch Mob.
The absolute number 1 thing K-State must improve in the most is passing defense. Nigel Malone turned himself into an All Big 12 corner, but the rest of secondary was too susceptible to the big play last year. Take for example the 2 games that could have given K-State the Big 12 Championship. K-State allowed back to back schools break school passing records in consecutive weeks. Both Landry Jones, and Brandon Weeden threw for over 500 yards two weeks in a row. K-State can not allow this to happen once this year if K-State wants to succeed. K-State faces big tests this year in West Virgina and Oklahoma. The Cats must stop the deep pass this year. A lot of that will rely on Ty Zimmerman and Thomas Ferguson to cover post. Against Oklahoma State, Justin Blackmon scored 3 touchdowns on the same route, the post route. Tavon Austin is capable of doing the same thing. The Cat secondary is huge for K-State this season. Everyone knows what Nigel Malone can do, but the other 3 must prevent the deep route. Randall Evans, and Bubba Chapman will fill help Nigel Malone out at the Corner position.
The addition of TCU and West Virginia into the Big 12, makes this a much tougher league than a year ago. K-State will have to take trips to Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU, as well as play tough home games with Oklahoma State and Texas. For that reason most people are pegging this Wildcat team as a 8-4/9-3 team. But something feels different and special about this certain group of Wildcats. Something feels magical. The buzz around Manhattan is one not seen since the 2000’s. Its simple, the ceiling for this Cat team is untouchable. If K-State can go undefeated at home and sneak out of Oklahoma with a W, the sky is the limit.
Worst Case Scenario: 8-4
Best Case Scenario 12-0.