Kansas State has been a model of consistency since Bill Snyder returned as head coach in 2009, as the Wildcats have won at least six games every season and have posted just one losing record. This year’s Wildcats team could be quite dangerous on offense with dual-threat quarterback Jesse Ertz leading the way. The defense must replace Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Willis up front and its top three linebackers, but there’s experience in the secondary and a couple of guys who could take a big step forward. As usual, Kansas State will be a tough out in the Big 12.
Previewing Kansas State Football’s Offense for 2017
Kansas State enters the 2017 season without a hint of mystery at quarterback, which is just how Bill Snyder likes it. Jesse Ertz is coming off an impressive season in which he led the Wildcats to a 9–4 record while throwing for 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns and also running for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. Snyder typically has his best success with quarterbacks he trusts, and that’s what he has in Ertz, who underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder to repair an injury he sustained midway through last season. He showed he was a skilled and physical runner as a junior. If he can stay healthy and improve on his 57.6 completion percentage, he could become one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12.
Deciphering K-State’s running back rotation won’t be so easy, but that’s a good challenge for coaches to have. Charles Jones was usually the starter but never the top runner. The Wildcats have never appeared deeper at running back. With Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon leading the way, K-State will have a versatile backfield. Barnes was electric during his debut season, averaging 7.9 yards per rush without losing yardage on 56 carries. Silmon was impressive, too, rushing for 464 yards and three touchdowns on 86 attempts. They could form a dynamic backfield duo, with Barnes doing most of his damage between the tackles and Silmon bouncing outside. But fullback Winston Dimel and scatback Dalvin Warmack will still get touches. They should all have room to run behind an offensive line that returns three starters, including right tackle Dalton Risner.
With versatile playmaker Byron Pringle and speedster Dominique Heath back at receiver, along with Cal transfer Carlos Strickland and a handful of up-and-coming deep threats, this has the makings of K-State’s best offense in years.
Previewing Kansas State Football’s Defense for 2017
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How do you replace an elite pass rusher like Jordan Willis? The Wildcats are about to find out. Willis, a do-everything star at defensive end last season, was K-State’s biggest loss of the offseason. Good thing it has some talent returning on the defensive line. Reggie Walker will try to fill the void after recording 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a freshman. Tanner Wood will complement him on the other end. Will Geary and Trey Dishon will lead the way on the inside.
The Wildcats will look different in the middle. K-State’s top three linebackers last season (Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore, Will Davis) have all moved on, leaving an abundance of playing time. Former walk-on Trent Tanking seems poised to step into a leadership role at the position. Da’Quan Patton, a junior college transfer, also appears ready to push for a starting spot with Sam Sizelove, Elijah Sullivan and Jayd Kirby also in the mix.
K-State will have experience in its secondary with D.J. Reed and Duke Shelley back at corner and Kendall Adams returning at safety. Dante Barnett and Donnie Starks will need to be replaced. Returning safeties Sean Newlan and Denzel Goolsby will both get a shot at those positions, but junior college transfer Elijah Walker could also play immediately.
Previewing Kansas State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Reliable specialists Matthew McCrane (kicker) and Nick Walsh (punter) are both back and figure to pick up where they left off. Pringle and Heath both returned kicks for touchdowns last season and should once again be dangerous in the return game.
The Wildcats will have serious experience and firepower on offense this season. If they can develop a few players on defense and improve against the pass, they could be one of the Big 12’s biggest threats to dethrone Oklahoma.
NATIONAL RANKING: 22
BIG 12 PREDICTION: 4TH
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