Every year, a conference features a sleeper team that ends up competing for a conference title. In the Big 12, keep a close eye on Kansas State.
The Wildcats have missed a beat in the transition from Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman. After what looked to be a promising start in 2019, injuries and a COVID-19 season cost K-State much of its success a year later. Last season, Klieman was back on track, going 8-5 to close out the year with a Texas Bowl victory over LSU.
The Wildcats will have a new quarterback for the first time since 2017 following the departure of Skylar Thompson. Defensively, Kansas State seems to be set to make a run with the return of both leading pass-rushers. Add in a do-it-all playmaker in the backfield and maybe it’s best not to call K-State a sleeper.
Does that hurt Texas Tech’s chances of picking up a win on the road?
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Kansas State Wildcats
2021 Record: 8-5 (4-5 Big 12)
Head Coach: Chris Klieman
Klieman is entering his fourth season with the Wildcats, posting a 20-16 overall record.
Offensive Set: Power I Pro
Defensive Set: 3-3-5
Returning Starters on Offense: 8
Offensive coordinator Collin Klein made history for the Wildcats while starting at quarterback in 2012, becoming the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Heisman finalist. In large part, it was due to the quarterback’s rushing ability rather than his arm.
The style of offense hasn’t changed much.
K-State’s power-run offense often features a fullback in its backfield. And no, the fullback doesn’t just provide an extra blocking role for the run game as both fullbacks averaged 4.1 yards per attempt. Of course, the bulk of the carries will go to all-purpose star Deuce Vaughn after he recorded 1,872 total yards last fall.
Former Nebraska starting quarterback Adrian Martinez gets one final shot to prove his status as a quality starter in Manhattan. Last season with the Cornhuskers, he threw for over 2,800 yards and 14 touchdowns while tacking on another 13 scores with his legs.
Martinez’s biggest flaw is his turnover rate. Since 2018, he’s thrown at least eight interceptions in three seasons and has been credited with 13 turnovers during that same span. The good news for the graduate transfer is both starting receivers are returning too.
K-State’s biggest blessing likely comes on its offensive line. Three starters return, including All-Big 12 left tackle Cooper Beebe. The biggest battle to watch for is at center since the Wildcats are replacing two-year starter Noah Johnson.
Projected offensive starters:
QB Adrian Martinez
RB Deuce Vaughn*
FB Jax Dineen*
WR Malik Knowles*
WR Phillip Brooks*
TE Sammy Wheeler
LT Cooper Beebe*
LG KT Levenson*
C Hadley Panzer OR Hayden Gillum
RG Taylor Poitier
RT Christian Duffie*
* denotes returning starter
Returning Starters on Defense: 6
While the offense struggled to find consistency last season, the defense remained K-State’s saving grace. The Wildcats held their own against pass-heavy teams, allowing an average of just over 20 points per game.
Each level of the defense features at least one returning starter. Defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah is coming off a season in which he finished with 11 career sacks. Leading tackler Daniel Green is set to control the middle of the field as the team’s MIKE linebacker.
The biggest question mark comes at the safety position. Both Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe will return at cornerback, but there’s a competition at the nickel and both safety spots following the departure of Jahron McPherson and Russ Yeast. Former Tyler Junior College transfer Kobe Savage should get the first crack as the team’s JACK spot while Virginia transfer Josh Hayes likey sees reps at free safety.
Projected defensive starters:
DE: Felix Anudike-Uzomah*
NT: Eli Huggins*
DE: Nate Matlack
MIKE: Daniel Green*
WILL: Will Honas
SAM/EDGE: Khalid Duke
CB: Julius Brents*
CB Ekow Boye-Doe*
Nickel/JACK: Kobe Savage
FS Josh Hayes
SS TJ Smith*
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