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Collin Klein looks to lead the Wildcats back into Big 12 title contention.
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
2012 Kansas State Wildcats Spring Preview
2011 Record: 10-3, 7-2 Big 12
Spring practice: April 4-April 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6
Passing: Collin Klein, 161 of 281, 1,918 yds., 13 TD, 6 INTs
Rushing: Collin Klein, 317 car., 1,141 yds., 27 TDs
Receiving: Chris Harper, 40 rec., 547 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Arthur Brown, 101
Sacks: Meshak Williams, 7
Interceptions: Nigel Malone, 7
Early Enrollees: ATH Dante Barnett, QB Tavarius Bender, DB Morgan Burns, DE Hunter Davis, FB Glenn Gronkowski, DL Samuel Harvill, LB Mike Moore, WR Steven West, DL Wesley Hollingshed (JC)
JUCO Transfers to Watch: WR Marquez Clark, OL Ellwood Clement, DB Kent Gainous, DL Wesley Hollingshed, DL Chaquil Reed, OL Tavon Rooks
Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami
Sept. 15 North Texas
Sept. 22 at Oklahoma
Oct. 6 Kansas
Oct. 13 at Iowa State
Oct. 20 at West Virginia
Oct. 27 Texas Tech
Nov. 3 Oklahoma State
Nov. 10 at TCU
Nov. 17 at Baylor
Dec. 1 Texas
Offensive Strength: Collin Klein. The senior quarterback carried the Kansas State offense last season, accounting for 3,059 total yards and 40 overall scores. Although Klein dealt with injuries for various parts of the season, he managed to start every game and led the Wildcats to their first Cotton Bowl appearance since 2001. Kansas State may not have an all-conference performer at receiver, but there’s a nice collection of weapons, includuing Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett.
Offensive Weakness: Running back John Hubert had a nice season last year, rushing for 970 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Wildcats need a little more punch from their ground attack and will likely look to get more from senior Angelo Pease and sophomore DeMarcus Robinson. The line isn’t a huge concern, but three starters depart, including two all-conference performers.
Defensive Strength: Outside of Klein, the biggest surprise in Kansas State’s season might have been the play of linebacker Arthur Brown. Although he was a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, Brown never lived up to the hype at Miami. Brown finished 2011 with first-team All-Big 12 honors and recorded 101 stops and two sacks. Tre Walker joins Brown in the linebacking corps, which should be among the best in the Big 12.
Defensive Weakness: Each level of the defense seems to be in good shape, but the Wildcats have to be a little concerned about the interior of the line. Tackle Ray Kibble was a key cog in the rush defense, and JUCO transfer Wesley Hollingshed will be counted upon to have a major role early on. The defense will also miss cornerback David Garrett, but there may not be much of a drop off with Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman manning the corner positions in 2012.
Spring Storylines Facing the Wildcats
1. The Wildcats were one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last season, as they were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, but posted a 10-3 record and made an appearance in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. The overriding theme when examining Kansas State’s 2012 prospects certainly has to be: Can the Wildcats do it again? There’s no question coach Bill Snyder is one of the best in college football and this team always seems to exceed most preseason expectations. In order for Kansas State to repeat last season’s 10 wins, there are some question marks that must be addressed. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh departed for South Florida, and Snyder promoted assistant Tom Hayes to fill that spot. Also, both sides of the ball lost a couple of key contributors. The Wildcats were outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in league play, but were second in the conference in turnover margin. It’s not a perfect recipe for success, but if the defense continues to force turnovers, Kansas State certainly won’t beat itself in 2012.
2. If Kansas State wants to win the Big 12, it has to find a way to take some of the offensive pressure off of quarterback Collin Klein. The junior was one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 last year, rushing for 1,141 yards and 27 scores, while adding 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air. However, Klein dealt with various bumps and bruises throughout last season and asking him to shoulder the entire offensive workload once again is a lot to ask. The Wildcats need more from running back John Hubert, along with a receiving corps that quietly features some deadly weapons. Although Klein is a capable runner, it’s important for Hubert to take some of the wear and tear off his quarterback. If Klein is injured, the Kansas State offense could sputter.
3. The biggest concern on offense for Kansas State has to be an offensive line that loses three starters, including first-team All-Big 12 tackle Clyde Aufner. Left tackle Zach Hanson and guard Colten Freeze have also expired their eligibility in Manhattan, leaving guard Nick Puetz and center B.J. Finney as the group’s only returning starters. The line was an underrated part of Kansas State’s success last year, as this group led the way for the Wildcats to post 34 rushing scores and average nearly four yards a carry. JUCO transfer Tavon Rooks is expected to challenge for playing time right away, while the coaching staff has some solid options – Cornelius Lucas, Ethan Douglas and Keenan Taylor – to contend for the rest of the spots. A wildcard to watch is tackle Manase Foketi. The senior is expected to be granted a medical redshirt for the 2011 season, which will allow him to play in 2012. If Foketi is healthy, he would be a key addition to the line and would likely start at one of the tackle positions.
4. New defensive coordinator Tom Hayes inherited a good situation for the 2012 season. Although the Wildcats have to replace a key player at each level of the defense, there’s still plenty to be encouraged about for 2012. The defensive line returns end Meshak Williams (seven sacks in 2011) and tackle Vai Lutui. The linebacking corps will be among the best in the Big 12, as first-team all-conference selection Arthur Brown and Tre Walker are back. The secondary finished 103rd nationally in pass defense, but returns cornerback Nigel Malone and safety Ty Zimmerman. Considering what Kansas State has returning, Hayes doesn’t need to overhaul the defense. However, the Wildcats need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and find a replacement for tackle Ray Kibble. The interior line could be an issue against opposing rushing attacks, but JUCO recruit Wesley Hollingshed has the size (300 pounds) to take Kibble’s place in the middle.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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