Big 12 Preview: Kansas State

31 Aug

As nice a person as he is, quarterback Collin Klein has no problem showing ferocity in his leadership on the football field, and that attitude will continue to permeate the team this season. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Overview: In 2011 the Wildcats’ total offense ranked ninth in the league, their defense fifth. Despite the numbers, and despite being picked to finish eighth in the league, Kansas State won 10 games. This year, I’ve seen the Wildcats picked to finish fifth or sixth in the Big 12. Maybe it is just because I attend Kansas State, but I think those predictions are much too safe.

Offense: The biggest offensive weapon for the Wildcats is quarterback Collin Klein, who scored 27 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing touchdowns in 2011. Those numbers moved him into the company of Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton, Tim Tebow and Eric Crouch as one of just four college players to collect at least 20 rushing touchdowns and 10 passing scores in a single season. 85 percent of Kansas State touchdowns in 2011 included Klein.

In addition to him, the Wildcats return talented receivers in Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett. Running back John Hubert is also back, along with center B.J. Finney. The sophomore center will be expected to take a leadership role on the line, where Kansas State is projected to start a pair of freshmen.

Coaches have said the Wildcats’ offense will be more versatile this season, using the passing game more effectively to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Klein added a caveat to that, however: whatever allows the team to win is what Kansas State will do.

Defense: The return of linebacker Arthur Brown is monstrous. He led the Wildcats with 101 tackles last season and is the heart and soul of the defense. He will defer that title, of course, if you ask him, which just makes him that much more of a leader for this unit. Tre Walker should also make an impact at the position. Coming back in the secondary are Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman, but the Wildcats will have to replace last season’s starters Tysyn Hartman and David Garrett. The defensive line boasts four seniors in tackles Vai Lutui and John Sua and ends Meshak Williams and Adam Davis.

This season the defense is under the direction of Tom Hayes, who was promoted to coordinator after coaching the secondary last season.

Special teams: Kansas State’s most under-appreciated unit is in good hands again this season. Placekicker Anthony Cantele and punter Ryan Doerr are both seniors. Lockett, though a sophomore, took two kickoff returns all the way last season, and Thompson, a junior, generally gets good yardage on his punt returns as well. Longsnapper Marcus Heit played in 12 games last season and was perfect on 128 snaps, continuing the tradition of excellence set by his predecessor Corey Adams, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys last summer.

Schedule: With a road game at Oklahoma slated as their Big 12 debut, the Wildcats may not go undefeated as long as they did last season. However, one way or another they will have two weeks before facing Kansas for their conference home opener. On Oct. 13 and 20 Kansas State has back-to-back road games against Iowa State and West Virginia, and following are home games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats go to Texas for contests with TCU and Baylor, and then they finish up with Texas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Projection: In 2011 I predicted eight wins for the Wildcats, and everyone said I was much too optimistic. I never saw any publication project even that number, and as it turns out, Kansas State and its 10-win season made even my guess look too conservative.

This season, I’ve projected a range of wins for each team in the league. For the Wildcats, my range would be eight to 10. Officially, I say 10. The Big 12 has some of the country’s best teams – six of them, if you believe preseason polls – so two losses would still be an extremely impressive year.

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