As long as Bill Snyder is the head coach in Manhattan, Kansas State will always be a contender in the Big 12. After another nine-win season last year — Snyder's 13th with the Wildcats — KSU enters the '15 season with some big holes to plug. Kansas State needs to find a leader at quarterback, replace stars at wide receiver and fill major voids in the front seven on defense if the Cats want to compete for a Big 12 crown.
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Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2015
Bill Snyder’s teams are at their best when he has a returning quarterback he trusts throwing passes. This season, he will try to prove he can win with a new quarterback, too. And when we say new, we mean brand, spanking new. The frontrunner, Joe Hubener, has never started a football game at any level at quarterback. The junior from Cheney, Kan., played other positions in high school and walked on at K-State as an athlete. He has since worked his way up to scholarship status and served behind Jake Waters as the team’s backup quarterback a year ago. He spent the spring battling with sophomore Jesse Ertz and freshman Alex Delton but says the job is his to lose.
No matter who ends up claiming the prize, K-State’s offense will look very different next season. While Waters was a gifted passer, his potential replacements are better runners.
Running will be key behind an offensive line that returns everyone other than center B.J. Finney. But the Wildcats will need better production from their running backs, none of whom exceeded 76 yards in a game last season. Charles Jones returns as the presumptive starter after rushing for 540 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.
The Wildcats lose star receivers Tyler Lockett and slot expert Curry Sexton and will look to an untested group of receivers to take their place.
Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2015
Dante Barnett is understandably confident about K-State’s secondary. Allow the senior defensive back to explain why: “We are so experienced. We have the talent. We have a physical corner and a speed corner. That is big.” Barnett has started 28 games at safety, and he is ready to lead K-State’s defense as a senior, especially with fellow seniors Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns returning at corner. McDaniel covers short passes as well as anyone, and Burns has eye-popping speed.
That trio should help the Wildcats as they try to improve their front seven after the loss of leading tackler Jonathan Truman. Linebacker Elijah Lee did not make as many stops as most of his teammates while playing regularly as a true freshman, but he had as many highlight hits as anyone. Lee finished his first college season with 19 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. He did all that while playing mostly on third downs as a standup pass rusher. Now, K-State hopes he can do more in an expanded role, joining Will Davis in the middle of K-State’s defense.
Up front, all-conference defensive tackle Travis Britz should lead the way, while Marquel Bryant and Jordan Willis try to replace Ryan Mueller’s production at defensive end.
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Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2015
Placekicker Matthew McCrane had a fantastic freshman campaign, connecting on 18-of-19 field goals. He will provide a steady foot in the kicking game, while Nick Walsh returns as punter. At specialist, the main question is: Who will replace Lockett? The do-everything player was hard to catch a year ago. Morgan Burns returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season, so he should slide into that role.
On paper, Kansas State looks like it lost too many playmakers to match its win total from a year ago, but you can’t count out a Snyder-coached team.
“It is obvious there were some critical elements in our program that we lost. When you lose the production that we had offensively, it certainly is sorely missed,” Snyder says. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost fewer people, fewer numbers. The dynamics are difficult, and they are every year. Some positions are a little harder to reconstruct than others. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”