Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2017-2018: 16. Kansas State Wildcats

16. Kansas State Wildcats

'Cats aren't flashy but as tough to beat as anybody 

  • Location: Manhattan, KS.
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Bill Snyder (26th year)
  • Last Years Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big 12)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Texas Bowl


Now entering his 26th season in Manhattan, Kansas, head coach Bill Snyder has clearly built a formula for consistent success even in the ever-changing Big 12. A mobile, smart quarterback operating behind a physical offensive line and being supported by an experienced defense is the type of team Snyder has consistently been able to build, and this year's edition appears no different. Underrated signal-caller Jesse Ertz will lead a team with plenty of experience and terrific play in the trenches. After ending 2016 on a high note (winning six of their final seven games) the hope is that formula will yield a possible Big 12 Champion, particularly without an overpowering team to point to right now in the conference.

Jesse Ertz
Offense: Last season, Kansas State entered the year with an interesting quarterback competition between former junior college transfer Jesse Ertz and inconsistent but talented Joe Hubener. After winning the job and putting together a marvelous 2016 there is clearly no question who will be running the offense in 2017: Ertz. Ertz proved to be a decent passer (1,755 yards and 9 touchdowns) but his real strength is as a runner where he recorded 1,012 yards and 12 scores a year ago. With his physical running style and ability to consistently gain yardage when he tucks it, he is extremely reminiscent of former Heisman finalist Collin Klein. The next step for Ertz is to become even more reliable through the air, where he had a pretty poor 57% completion percentage in '16. If he can do that, he certainly can make a case to being one of the top quarterbacks in the conference. At running back, Kansas State is breaking in a new starter but should still have a very dangerous and versatile backfield. Sophomore Alex Barnes is expected to get the bulk of carries, but expect junior Justin Silmon and freshman Bernard Goodwater to see action. Barnes had 442 yards and six touchdowns and impressed with a whopping 7.9 yards per carry while Silmon is more of a short-yardage weapon. Expect junior fullback Winston Dimel to also see a ton of use in the Wildcats' physical, smashmouth offense. The son of offensive coordinator Dana, Dimel is an absolute force as a runner, where he managed 12 touchdowns on just 30 carries. At receiver, Kansas State doesn't really have a star but they are very experienced and have plenty of potential. Juniors Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath will compete to be Ertz's top weapon through the air. Pringle qualifies as the team's most dangerous "home run" threat after recording 631 yards on 39 receptions (16.2 yards per reception) last season and burning a number of Big 12 defenses along the way. Meanwhile, Heath does most of his damage on short and intermediate routes, which this offense leans on heavily.
Byron Pringle
Sophomore Carlos Strickland could have a breakout year in Manhattan, after transferring from Cal. It will be an interesting transition for Strickland going from Sonny Dykes' Air Raid offense at Cal to Snyder and Dimel's methodical, run-based approach, but he should still find a way to use his impressive speed to his advantage. At tight end, the Wildcats bring back junior Dayton Valentine, an extremely proven blocker. What should make the K-State offense even more tough to stop is the fact that they have perhaps the best offensive line in the conference. Three starters return to the group, led by All-Conference level players such as sophomore Scott Frantz and junior Dalton Risner. Both will handle the tackle positions, which will make the Wildcats very tough to stop running side to side. Up the middle, senior Reid Najvar will lock down the center spot, although both guard spots are up for grabs. With Ertz returning and plenty of weapons at every level on the offense, there is a lot of reason to believe K-State will improve on their 32.2 points per game in '16, and have their most explosive group in years.

Defense: The Wildcats had the best defense in the Big 12 in terms of points allowed and total yardage, but the unit could undergo somewhat of a rebuild in 2017 as they lose a number of key leaders and difference-makers. The toughest loss was the departure of dominant defensive end Jordan Willis, who had 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season and constantly occupied opponents' attention. The hope is that the returning talent on the D-Line should be able to help replace Willis' production. Senior defensive tackle Will Geary is an absolute stud who clogs up running lanes (45 tackles in 2016). He isn't much of a pass rusher, but the role he plays on the defense cannot be overstated. Sophomore Reggie Walker showed plenty of promise in his true freshman season with 6.5 sacks and has the potential to have a huge season, while senior Tanner Wood, who has impressed in reserve roles, will be expected to start at Willis' departed defensive end spot. Kansas State was incredibly good at stopping the run last season, leaning on that D-Line and a rangy linebacker corps to shutdown opponents. The line should still play a big role, but the linebacker corps loses a ton, namely star Elijah Lee, the real heart and soul of the defense and the leading tackler. There isn't a ton of experienced options for the Wildcats to turn to at the position, so expect some growing pains as the linebackers figure some things out. Senior Trent Tanking is a former walk-on who knows defensive coordinator's Tom Hayes' system and is an excellent communicator. Senior Jayd Kirby will also be expected to see a much larger role after seeing very little snaps in 2016, while JUCO transfer Da'Quan Patton is a breakout candidate. In the pass-happy Big 12, having a great secondary is a significant advantage. That really wasn't the case at all for Kansas State last year (114th ranked pass defense in the country) but the return of three key starters means likely wild improvement. The cornerback spots are going to be clear strengths, as veterans D.J. Reed and Duke Shelley are both returning. Reed is vastly underrated; the junior managed to pick off three passes last season while also managing to get his hand on a whole lot more, with a staggering 16 pass deflections. Reed's ability to force turnovers should force quarterbacks to look elsewhere, but Shelley is quite the force on the opposite side as well (48 tackles, three interceptions in '16). Junior safety Kendall Adams is the other returnee, and the hard-hitting safety will play an important role, making plays from sideline to sideline. At nickelback, Kansas State is excited about the potential of newcomer Elijah Walker. Walker, one of the nation's top junior college transfers, and absolutely dominated at Cerritos College in Long Beach, California. Snyder has gotten amazing production from his junior college transfers throughout his lengthy coaching career, and Walker could be the next former JUCO star.

Special Teams: Senior Matthew McCrane split time at placekicking duties last season but after knocking down 11 of 14 field goals, he should be the full-time starter at the ever-important position. Extremely reliable Nick Walsh returns for his senior season at punter, while the return game should be dangerous as well with Heath and Pringle doing damage. Both had one return for a touchdown last year, and should be threats to go the whole way whenever they touch the ball.

Compared to some of the other traditional powers in the conference such as Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas State has never had the big-time recruits or an insane amount of talent. Yet, that clearly hasn't stopped Snyder from building one of the conference's most consistent programs. As they turn to 2017, there is plenty of reason to believe K-State should once more be very dangerous, and perhaps even put together their best season since making the Fiesta Bowl in 2013. In fact, if Ertz continues to improve and the defense can identify some new playmakers to replace Lee and Willis, Kansas State might have a chance at a conference championship and possibly even a Playoff bid.

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.