With the 2017 season (finally) approaching we’re analyzing the situation in the Big 12. We’re here to breakdown every team and give you our 2017 outlook.
Let’s get going.
STADIUM: Bill Snyder Family Stadium (1968)
SEATING CAPACITY: 53,000
2017 RECRUITMENT RANKINGS: 60th (9th in Big 12)
ALL-TIME RECORD vs. TEXAS TECH: 8-9-0
The wizard Bill Snyder and his magic continues to maintain Kansas State on top since 1989, and 2016 was no exception. At 77, the Wildcats’ head coach wasn’t expected to have a positive season, as the roster had experience but was assumed to lack some quality.
Despite this, Kansas State recovered from a slow start, they were 3-3 after six weeks, and won six out of their last seven. The sweetest note was the final game of the season, an unexpected victory in the Texas Bowl against a tough Texas A&M team.
Both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the key for Snyder was the rushing game, as it has always been.
In this context, Snyder discovered two players who were not imagined to offer a great contribution but quickly turned into important pieces for the Wildcats’ offense, Jesse Ertz, and Alex Barnes.
Ertz is a former backup quarterback who barely saw the field in his first two seasons in Manhattan, but emerged due to his dual-threat abilities that led him to rush for 1,012 yards and score 12 touchdowns. With his size (6-feet-3, 212 pounds) and his ability to limit turnovers, he stole the starting job to Joe Hubener, who was the starter in 2015.
Barnes is a big and powerful running back (6-feet-1, 221 pounds) who improved game by game and had an outstanding performance against Baylor in Week 11, with 129 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 7.89 yards per carry, but an injury sidelined him in the final two games of the season, preventing him from reaching bigger numbers.
Another freshman was impressive on the other side, as defensive end Reggie Walker, who also received a scholarship offer from Texas Tech, emerged as a talented pass rusher, as he had 6.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles.
The odd couple made by Ertz and Barnes will again be the biggest threat for opposing defenses, but if they eventually have some problems, they will be hard to replace. Behind the quarterback, there are two inexperienced players like Alex Delton and the redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson, so none of them offers certainties.
The latter was ranked as the 10th dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class and is expected to be the long-term solution for the position, as Ertz is entering his final college season.
Contrarily, the backfield has some additional depth, as the backups are the junior Justin Silmon, who’s not as big as Barnes but is fairly reliable, and the fullback Winston Dimel, a touchdown machine as he had 12 scores on 30 carries.
In front of them, the offensive line doesn’t lose important pieces, and is always led by All-Big 12 right tackle Dalton Risner, a very good run blocker. There’s also a couple of wide receivers who emerged in the poverty of the Kansas State’s passing state, Byron Pringle, and Dominique Heath.
The defense demonstrated to be elite in rushing the passer but must face some important losses, like three out of four leading tacklers of 2016 and edge rusher Jordan Willis, who was the 73rd pick in the NFL Draft.
Reggie Walker will be again the most important defensive lineman, but he will be surrounded by former backups, excluding senior defensive tackle Will Geary.
Linebackers are the unit that’s most “affected” by graduations, but the problem was solved with JuCo transfer Da’Quan Patton, who was rated as the fifth best community-college outside linebacker in the nation.
Another important transfer will help the secondary, as cornerback Elijah Walker, ranked among the 50 best junior college players in the country, decided to accept the Wildcats offer. He will be an immediate upgrade for a passing defense that struggled early in 2016, and will create a quality duo alongside D.J. Reed, who ranked 4th in the nation with 16 pass breakups last season.
The Wildcats have two easy games to start the season, followed by a tricky trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt, that isn’t the punching bag of the SEC anymore but a solid team with a ton of returning experience. The Wildcats have the potential to top the Commodores, but it won’t be an easy one.
The first four games of the conference schedule will be hard, as Kansas State will be opposed to almost every top team of the Big-12. Only Oklahoma State is later in the season, alongside a group of (sob) easier games.
Bill Snyder can really pull out his wand and prepare for some more magic because the Wildcats could really have a shot at the Big-12 Championship game. The team is solid and experienced, and the stars seem to be aligning favorably, with a big number of no-longer-contender teams like West Virginia and not-ready-but-coming teams like Texas and Baylor. There are some open possibilities, probably for not so long anymore.