Everyone knows what Kansas State does well. Jake Waters can throw the football a long way with precision, Tyler Lockett can beat any cornerback and Ryan Mueller is one of the nation’s best pass-rushers.
That alone should be enough to get the Wildcats back to a decent bowl game. Bill Snyder has won 11 games the last five times K-State has returned its leading passer and he has averaged 9.5 wins the year after a bowl victory.
But is it enough to beat Auburn in one of the most anticipated nonconference games of the year? Is it enough for Bill Snyder’s third Big 12 championship? Is it enough to dream about a spot in the new College Football Playoff? Probably not.
The Wildcats need to develop a more complete look in order to make a run at a special season. With defensive coordinators devising new ways of stopping Lockett and new methods for attacking Waters, K-State will need alternate avenues to move the ball. And with offensive coordinators thinking up new blocking schemes for Mueller, K-State will need balance on defense.
Developing in those areas will help K-State’s star power shine through. It should be possible in most spots.
The biggest question mark is running back. It wasn’t hard for Lockett to get open while defenses worried about John Hubert, the program’s second-leading rusher, in the backfield. His replacement doesn’t need to rush for 1,000 yards, but he needs to keep opposing linebackers honest.
K-State may need to get creative at that position. Snyder was down on Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett during spring practices, but he complimented former Wichita Northwest standout DeMarcus Robinson, a senior, at the team’s media day. Still, Robinson has never risen above third string on the depth chart. This is a weak position. Maybe that’s why co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said he will likely use a committee approach that also includes fullback Glenn Gronkowski. He might also ask Waters to run more than he did a year ago.
That could be enough to work against pass defenses. But Lockett could also use help from his fellow receivers, though that seems like less of a concern with Curry Sexton, Deante Burton and Kyle Klein all back, plus the addition of Andre Davis.
The more single coverage Lockett sees, the better K-State’s offense will be.
“That will be critical,” Dimel said. “We have to take pressure off him. That can’t be the answer all the time. You have to force people to stop him, and once they stop him the other guys have to step up. The other two (receiver) positions have to step up and so do the running backs. They all have to step up and play.”
On defense, K-State will need Terrell Clinkscales, a gifted junior-college transfer, to contribute immediately at defensive tackle. If that happens, and Dante Barnett and Dylan Schellenberg continue their progressions as safety, the defense should be technically sound – if not overwhelmingly athletic. That will be enough against most teams. Will it be enough against Baylor or Oklahoma?
We may know the answer early. September games against Iowa State and Auburn will challenge K-State. Win both and an Oct. 18 clash at Oklahoma could turn into the game of the year in the Big 12. Of course, a December trip to Baylor will be daunting, as well.
K-State has the star power to match any opponent swing for swing, but it will need a strong supporting cast to do something special.