With Bill Snyder on the sidelines, never count out Kansas State in the Big 12 title mix. Despite a handful of key personnel departures, the Wildcats finished 8-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play last season. Most of Kansas State’s core is back for 2014, including quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats have to find a new running back and replace standout safety Ty Zimmerman, but this team should be in the mix for a spot among the top-four teams in the Big 12 this year.
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Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2014:
Take a look back at coach Bill Snyder’s best seasons. For the most part, they all occurred when he had the opportunity to work with a veteran quarterback he could trust. That will once again be the case this season, with Jake Waters returning for what could be a special senior year. He completed 159-of-260 passes while throwing for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He also developed a strong rapport with top receiver Tyler Lockett that should continue to blossom. Last season, Waters’ development was slowed by a position battle with Daniel Sams. But he took control of the job and is now the unquestioned starter, while Sams moved to receiver in the spring. However, Sams decided to transfer in early May.
With a strong core of offensive linemen returning in senior center B.J. Finney and juniors Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson, blocking shouldn’t be a problem. Give Waters time, and he will have ample options to choose from in the passing game. The Wildcats are loaded at wide receiver. Lockett, a senior, returns as one of the nation’s top playmakers, but there is more to the position. Curry Sexton caught 39 passes for 446 yards last year, and sophomore Deante Burton seems poised to take on a starting role. Kyle Klein and Andre Davis should both also see the field.
The biggest question mark on offense is at running back. John Hubert, a three-year starter and the No. 2 rusher in program history, has played his last game. That means an unproven runner will take his place. DeMarcus Robinson, a senior and former four-star recruit out of Wichita, figures to be the favorite, but sophomores Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones aren’t far behind. Freshman Dalvin Warmack could also get carries as the season goes along.
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Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2014:
Ryan Mueller was an unknown last season. This year, he will be at the top of every opposing team’s scouting report. After bursting onto the scene as a junior with 11.5 sacks, which tied the program record for a season, he is now expected to anchor K-State’s defensive line with his pass-rushing skills. He will have to deliver. Though the Wildcats have lots of promising young talent on defense, Mueller is one of the unit’s few proven playmakers.
Travis Britz is back for another year in the middle of K-State’s defensive line, Dante Barnett will highlight the secondary at safety, and cornerback Randall Evans and linebacker Jonathan Truman have starting experience. But the rest of the defense will be filled with new faces. A pair of touted junior college transfers could slide seamlessly into the Wildcats’ defensive plans. Terrell Clinkscales is talented enough to play immediately at defensive tackle, and D’Vonta Derricott should start at linebacker. Still, they lack experience on the FBS level.
A year ago, K-State’s defense relied on veterans such as Blake Slaughter and Ty Zimmerman to lead the way. The Wildcats may be more talented this season, but they will need new leadership from players like Mueller.
Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2014:
Jack Cantele had a strong debut season as K-State’s kicker, connecting on 11-of-13 field goals. He seems ready for more this year. Lockett will once again lead the way at kick returner. He has been one of the most explosive return men in the nation the past few seasons, scoring four touchdowns.
K-State finished 2013 strong by winning six of seven. The Wildcats will need to take advantage of that momentum with an early trip to Iowa State and a home game with Auburn looming before October. If they do, it could be a special season in Manhattan.
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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Kansas State No. 20:
1. Finished 2013 by winning six out of their last seven games
Kansas State started 2-4 last year, but there was no shame in losing to North Dakota State, Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor. The Wildcats played better over the final seven contests, finishing with six victories in that span, with the only loss coming against Oklahoma. With 10 starters back, Kansas State has a chance to build off that total in 2014.
2. Jake Waters development at quarterback
In his first season at Kansas State, Waters quietly had an impressive debut. In 13 games, Waters threw for 2,469 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 61.2 percent of his throws. He ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 in quarterback rating and averaged 15.5 yards per completion. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, look for Waters to take the next step in his development in 2014.
3. Loaded receiving corps
Kansas State should have one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps in 2014. Tyler Lockett returns after catching 81 passes for 1,262 yards and 11 scores last year. Joining Lockett as key contributors will be Curry Sexton, Kyle Klein and junior college recruit Andre Davis.
4. Strength in the trenches
The defense returns only four starters, so there are some holes to fill, but coach Bill Snyder has to like what returns up front. The Wildcats return end Ryan Mueller and defensive tackle Travis Britz, and junior college recruit Terrell Clinkscales is expected to make an immediate impact. The offensive line is also among the best in the Big 12. Center B.J. Finney could be an All-American in 2014, and tackle Cody Whitehair is expected to be a first-team All-Big 12 player.
5. Challenging Big 12 schedule
Kansas State hosts Texas in a key conference swing game, but the Wildcats have five road Big 12 contests in 2014. Bill Snyder’s team plays at Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. This team has enough talent to exceed last year’s win total, but the schedule could prevent Kansas State from reaching 10 victories or challenging for the No. 1 spot in the conference.