The Summer Preview: Kansas State Wildcats

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Viva the Matadors continues Kansas St. Week with a look at the Wildcats, plus, a Q&A with Kansas State blog, Bring On The Cats.

Quick Hits:

Opponent: @ Kansas St. Wildcats
Last Year's Record: 8-5
Coach: Bill Snyder
Game 5: October 4th

Five Things:

1. Sam is Gone, But Waters Returns. So at least Daniel Sam transferred, right? I don't know how much this will help Texas Tech, but for me, I'm certainly glad that there is one very talented offensive weapon that's no longer at Kansas St. Of course, teams will have to contend with Jake Waters, who improved as the year progressed and is more dangerous as a thrower than Sam was. Waters completed 61% of his passes for 2,469 yards for 9.5 yards per attempt. That last bit isn't a typo. Waters really capitalized on those deep throws. He also had 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

2. Donkey Kicked. Last year's game against K-State was an abomination. The Red Raiders could literally do nothing to stop anyone that was wearing purple from doing whatever it is that they wanted. There were plenty of bad games last year, but this was the worst for me. Kansas St. was good, but I don't want to fool myself in thinking that they were 30 or 40 points better than Texas Tech (although they were that much better). If played again, I'd like to think that Texas Tech would figure something out defensively or offensively against Kansas St. and now, the Red Raiders will get a shot in Manhattan this year. Two Big 12 road games to start the Big 12 season is going to be tough. Last year, it seemed that the schedule was back-loaded with tough games and now Texas Tech looks to play two teams that have pretty much handled Texas Tech on the road two weeks in a row.

3. Lockett is a Joy to Watch. Tyler Lockett is the most dynamic player in the Big 12 and it's not even close. Sorry Jakeem. He's just a superb player and a joy to watch when he's not playing against your team. Although he is diminutive in size, Lockett simply makes plays. He caught 81 passes for 1,262 yards and in mentioning Waters 9.5 yards per attempt is largely because of Lockett, who was just terrific and a fun and fast player to watch.

4. Mueller is a Force. Ryan Mueller, a former walk-on, may be the best defensive player in the Big 12. And maybe this is the best distinction between the Texas Tech defense and the Kansas St. defense, is that they have a handful of guys on both sides of the ball that can make big plays and Texas Tech is still waiting on someone to be that type of player for the Red Raiders on defense. Let's hope that happens for Texas Tech soon. Mueller is terrific though, with 62 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks last year. He's really dominant. The biggest problem though is that Mueller was pretty much doing that all by himself as K-State and Texas Tech had the same number of sacks at 21 and had fewer tackles for loss than Texas Tech, by 11. The difference though is that K-State was terrific against the run and that didn't happen for Texas Tech.

5. Let's Get to Know the Future Stars. We can be assured that the JUCO players that signed for K-State are going to be future stars, right? Let's go down the list, including Terrell Clinkscales, who was a highly rated defensive tackle and I think most are thinking he's going to be the best JUCO player for K-State and will play immediately. Linebacker D'Vonta Derricott, an inside linebacker and Isaiah Riddle is an outside linebacker. Offensive line was addressed as Luke Hayes is a solid 3-star that will play tackle as well as A.J. Allen from California who plays tackle and they went ahead and added a guard in Terrale Johnson. Danziel McDaniel is a cornerback that was also a high 3-star player and they added another cornerback in Jesse Mack.

Q&A with Bring on the Cats:

Much thanks to Derek Smith from Bring On The Cats for answering some questions about K-State.

1. What are your expectations for 2014?

My expectations are a bit bias, of course, but for your purposes I'll attempt a little objectivity. I do expect a considerable improvement over last season. I think the Wildcats will make a serious run for the Big 12 title. The fact that they play both Oklahoma and Baylor on the road is the biggest reason I don't expect another trophy this year. I think a conservative expectation is an eight or nine win season with a ceiling of 10-11.

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Wildcats?

The biggest weakness for the ‘Cats this year will probably be in the running game. Losing John Hubert is pretty significant considering he's been our only back for the better part of two seasons. Losing Daniel Sams doesn't help much here either of course, but his production did sort of tail off as the team gained momentum last year. I really don't think his departure is going to affect the offense that much.

None of the running backs on the roster have any significant playing time. Senior DeMarcus Robinson was the early favorite headed into spring ball, but he somehow faded all the way back to third on the final spring depth chart. I was most impressed with sophomore Jarvis Leverett in the spring game. He ran behind the backup offensive line against the starting defense and logged more yards per carry than fellow sophomore Charles Jones. Jones came out ahead on the final spring depth chart, but don't count on that to hold throughout the summer. There's also some chatter that three-star Blue Springs recruit Dalvin Warmack could come in and steal the show before fall camp, but I don't see Bill Snyder starting a true freshman when his system relies so much on solid running backs who hold on to the football. With all the uncertainty at running back, there's a good chance Glenn Gronkowski could have an expanded role in this year's offense. I'm not sure if he'll see many carries from the fullback position, but he might serve a sort of a hybrid wingback/tight end and be a significant threat in the passing game.

Tyler Lockett is of course the strongest of the strengths on this team. He showed last year that it didn't matter if the defense knew he was getting the ball, he was going to take it. He very well could be the best wide receiver in the conference and possibly one of the best in the country. With Sams transferring and taking the pressure off Jake Waters, Lockett might be even better than last year.

The wide receiver position as a whole might also have more depth than we've seen in recent years. Curry Sexton will line up opposite Lockett and has been a solid possession receiver throughout his career. Deante Burton is listed at number three. He had a very solid spring game and has the athleticism to make things happen from the slot. Redshirt freshman receiver Judah Jones was the surprise of the spring game showing a lot of explosiveness. He also lined up at running back for a few plays and returned kicks, showing that Snyder might have some pretty dynamic plans for him in the future.

The defense looks to have potential to be better than last year despite losing many starters. The feeling among the fanbase is that Snyder and the defensive coaches were playing experience over talent in a lot of spots to let the young guys mature. Now they all have a year in the system and the unit looks to be much faster and more athletic.The one major question mark on the defense is safety Dylan Shellenberg. He filled in for Ty Zimmerman late in the year last year when Zimmerman got hurt, and though he wasn't glaringly bad, he didn't perform spectacularly either. He only really sticks out because of the large shoes he has to fill, so it's probably unfair to call him a weakness. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of holding down a position that was so solid for so long with Zimm.

Another semi-major question is the eligibility issues of linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales. Both are highly touted JUCO transfers with big upsides, but they each have rather large academic hills to climb over the summer if they hope to get on the field in August. If they can, they'll certainly add significant depth if not start right away. If not, there are players that can fill the spots, so it's not do-or-die. But fans would certainly rather see them on the field, especially Clinkscales, who seems to be quite a force against the run and also could potentially draw double teams and free up the edge for Ryan Mueller on passing downs.

3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for Kansas State?

The two best players to watch on offense will probably be Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. As I said above, with Sams gone and the pressure off Waters, the Waters-to-Lockett connection could be taken to a whole new level in 2014.

The two best players on D are probably Ryan Mueller Dante Barnett. Mueller will look to compete for Big 12 Defensive player of the year honors in his final season. Barnett came on strong at free safety late last year and finished the the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl defensive MVP. If Shellenberg struggles at strong safety, fans hope Barnett will be able to pick up the slack.

BONUS: It's my recollection that the football stadium will be renovated again, talk a bit about those renovations and what they will add?

It is true that the stadium is being renovated again. The West Stadium improvements from last year were actually only phase two of a six phase "master plan" to renovate Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Phase three is already under development and will be a complete remodeling of the north side of the stadium. The existing Vanier Football Complex will be torn down and rebuilt, closing off the north side and turning the stadium into a true "bowl." Here's a link to the full list of planned upgrades and here's a link to the concept video of the north end zone project.

From the Spring:

Can you feel it? Bill Snyder takes us through the spring.

On how representative the game was...

"Representative, I do not think we were the kind of football team that I wanted us to be today. There were some good things, there was some bad things. The white team at some spots collectively played better than the purple team. I think we struggled on offense. The white team offensively put up some first downs. We could not get any three-and-outs for the purple defense. They struggled a little bit on the big play. The offense just killed itself with penalties and took them out of field position and scoring range on more than one occasion. I think part of that is I have not been with them to work with them as much as I would like to. "

On the play of the defenses...

"The easy thing to say is that they are running the same play every day and defensively you line up against the same thing over and over. Pretty soon you get acclimated to it. In everything you get used to how the offense lines up and how the linemen move their eyes and how they go in to their stances. It is the familiarization with the opponent's offense and during the season you do not get that. You get three or four days to get to look at it with different people playing it. Virtually every program is in the same situation that the offense is ahead of the defense and the defense catches up. That has not always been the case for us, but I think that is not the whole issue. Part of it is that we are not as productive on offense and like I said a minute ago, the offense has not been disciplined during the course of the spring. Penalties are the biggest thing. We have had some turnover issues and we turned over the ball today again when we had an opportunity to go in and score."

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