No one really knows how Bill Snyder does it but he continues to churn out bowl appearances and 1,000-yard rushers the way (some) other teams in the Big 12 only dream about.
After a slow start to the 2013 season that included four losses in the first six weeks, Snyder’s bunch turned the year around and won six of their last seven. The surge was capped by a convincing bowl win over Michigan and it gave Snyder a third straight season with at least eight wins.
And no other team can replace six defensive starters like Kansas State. The Wildcats have to replace Ty Zimmerman, Blake Slaughter, both cornerbacks and two defensive linemen on defense. Meanwhile, the offense returns six starters but the offensive line and backfield need to be reworked this spring.
But fans in Manhattan aren’t likely worried, as Snyder will have a plan in place to overachieve once again in ’14. Settling his backfield, filling holes along the O-line and replacing leadership on defense this spring would go a long way to setting the table for another excellent season of pigskin in The Little Apple.
Kansas State Wildcats 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)
Spring Practice Opens: April 2
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Kansas State's 2014 Spring Practice
Organize the backfield
Daniel Sams played in all 13 games a year ago at quarterback, rushing for over 800 yards and completing 71.7 percent of his passes. Yet, he saw his snaps decrease as the season went along — nine carries and one pass attempt in the final three games — and Snyder is toying with playing Sams at either running back or wide receiver. The main reason behind the move is the emergence of Jake Waters at quarterback. Additionally, John Hubert (1,048 yards, 10 TDs) has to be replaced as the primary ball carrier as well. This may open the gate for Sams to get snaps all over the offense. As far as true running backs go, Demarcus Robinson is the first name who will get a chance to replace the three-year starter at tailback with guys like Jarvis Leverett stepping into bigger roles. It is important for Snyder to organize his backfield this spring.
Rebuild the O-Line
Left tackle Cornelius Lucas and right tackle Tavon Brooks both earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 recognition a year ago. Both also have moved on from the KSU program. Right guard Keenan Taylor started nine games and is gone too. Plugging these three holes will be imperative if the Wildcats want to compete for a Big 12 championship this fall. B.J. Finney returns to the pivot as one of the best centers in the nation while Cody Whitehair, an All-Big 12 pick himself, is back at guard. Snyder will need to develop some bodies after those two in a hurry this spring. Boston Stiverson, Aderius Epps, Drew Liddle and Kason Hostrup should all scrap and claw for starting snaps over the next few months.
Fill holes in the back seven on defense
Even though Alauna Finau and Chaquil Reed departed the defensive line, the Cats could boast one of the top D-lines in the Big 12 in ’14, thanks to Ryan Mueller and Travis Britz. But plugging the gaps left by both starting cornerbacks (Kip Daily, Dorrian Roberts), a defensive stalwart in Zimmerman at safety and All-Big 12 pick in linebacker Blake Slaughter will be critical this spring. Randall Evans got loads of starting experience at nickel back a year ago and should slide nicely into a starting spot on the outside. Safety Dante Barnett and linebacker Jonathan Truman, who combined for 164 tackles a year ago, will be asked to take over leadership roles as well. After those three, the rest of the back seven needs to be developed and organized. Dylan Schellenberg, Weston Hiebert, Morgan Burns and Travis Green will compete for time in the secondary while Colborn Couchman, Dakorey Johnson, Mike Moore, Will Davis and Charmeachealle Moore will attempt to earn a starting spot at linebacker. Snyder always figures out a way to replace key departures on the defensive side of the ball but he has his work cut out for himself this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
The Wildcats are always impossible to pinpoint in the offseason as well as the preseason. It’s a team that constantly figures out a way to replace key starters seamlessly and deftly. The 2014 season won’t be any different either, as KSU has big holes to fill on both sides of the ball but is still viewed as a Big 12 title contender. The schedule isn’t easy — with visits from Auburn, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State before Nov. 2 — and road trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor in the final four games. But KSU gets three off weekends and each is perfectly spaced out, giving the Cats only one stretch of four straight games in ’14. This team is fully capable of competing for another Big 12 title but will need to iron out some kinks this spring before it can be considered the frontrunner.