Truth be told, while I didn't give Kansas State much chance of being in position to win the Big XII North this season,, I'm not sure I missed too badly. Carson Coffman only lasted a few games at quarterback before being replaced by Grant Gregory. Daniel Thomas turned out to be a top-notch running back for the Wildcats, and has become a "slash" type player in the "everybody runs it now" Wildcat formation. The Wildcats disappointed the Big XII by losing to Louisiana in September, but then pulled off upsets of Iowa State and Texas A&M to position themselves to compete in the North.
Defensively, the Wildcats still generally rank in the bottom half of the conference except in one key statistic: the Wildcats are +8 in turnover margin this season, good for 2nd in the Big XII. In a division where it seems everybody seems to be trying to lose at times, the Wildcats have been able to make their move by simply not making the mistakes everybody else is.
So just for giggles, here's my preview of the Wildcats from this summer.
There are two groups of fans happy that Ron Price was fired by Kansas State: Wildcat fans and Longhorn fans. Inexplicably, Prince seemed to have Mack Brown's number, upsetting Texas both time the Wildcats faced Texas, including a 41-21 blowout in Austin that is remembered mostly for the Ron Prince Stomp. Against the rest of the Big XII, the Wilcats went 7-15 during the Prince era. So out of retirement comes the architect of the Miracle in Manhattan, Bill Snyder. While the program isn't as bad off as it was when Snyder first arrived at Kansas State, the Wildcats will be recovering from Prince's bizarre recruiting practices (19 JuCo's last season?) for years to come.
Josh Freeman took his NFL prototype body (6' 6", 248 lb) and NAIA prototype game (58% completion percentage last season) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who decided to utilize (waste?) a first round draft pick on the Freeman project. The leading candidate to replace Freeman from last year is junior Carson Coffman, who looked much better than Freeman in last year's NU/KSU game. But Coffman looks more like a quarterback Snyder used in the early part of his K-State career (Chad May, Brian Kavanaugh) than in the later part (Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson) when the 'Cats challenged for the conference title. So enter juco transfer Daniel Thomas, who reminds some people of Michael Bishop. At least initially, he'll probably see time as a "Slash" player, taking snaps at running back, receiver, and quarterback.
Who else will play running back is unknown at this time either. Last year's top two returning rushers are changing positions. Junior Lamark Brown, who led the returning 'Cats with 412 yards and 5 touchdowns is returning to wide receiver, and sophomore Logan Dold is now a safety. So perhaps it's Thomas' job to lose after all; even Thomas tells the Kansas City Star that he views himself as a running back. If not Thomas, then it'll have to be senior Keithen Valentine almost by default.
The returning star on offense for Kansas State is senior wide receiver Brandon Banks, who earned Big XII offensive newcomer of the year honors last season. He caught 67 passes for 1049 yards and nine touchdowns last season in addition to the 98 yard kickoff return against the Huskers. Senior tight end Jeron Mastrud and senior wide receiver Aubrey Quarles return after 400 yard seasons last season.
Offensive line will be a huge concern. Senior left tackle Nick Stringer was honorable mention all-Big XII last season, and senior left guard Brock Unruh and sophomore right guard Colten Freeze were part-time starters last sason.
Eight starters return from the worst defense in the Big XII last season; you can decide if that's good or bad. Defensive ends Eric Childs and Brandon Harold did get honorable mention all-Big XII last season. Senior defensive tackle Jeffrey Fitzgerald transferred from Virginia, where he was a freshman all-American in 2006. In 2007, he had 73 tackles and 7 sacks for Virginia.
The Wildcats plan to run a 4-2-5 defense, with sophomore Alex Hrebec being counted on to build on 68 tackles last season. The secondary is lead by junior cornerback Joshua Moore, who earned honorable mention all-Big XII last season with 76 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Senior safety Courtney Herndon added 61 tackles last season, while sophomore safety Tysyn Hartman switched from quarterback to safety last season, adding 49 tackles.
The cupboard isn't quite as empty in 2009 as it was twenty years ago, but at first glance, it doesn't look like the Cats will have the firepower to challenge for the top spots in the North division initially. 2009 is more about reversing the slide and reestablishing the program he built. Phil Steele picked Kansas State to finish in second in the north, but that seems to be based more on the favorable schedule than anything else. The only division foe the Wildcats play on the road is Nebraska, though the Wildcats will play Iowa State at Arrowhead in Kansas City. To get to bowl eligibility, the Wildcats will likely need to beat the UCLA on the road, the Cyclones, Texas A&M at home, and find a win against Kansas, Missouri, or at Texas Tech. Doable? Yes. But probably a stretch goal for this group.