2016 record: 9-4, 6-3 (fourth Big 12)
Projected 2017 record: 9-3, 6-3 Big 12
Key Starters lost: DE Jordan Willis, DB Dante Barnett, OL Terrale Johnson, LB Elijah Lee, LB Charmeachealle Moore.
Key Starters returning: QB Jesse Ertz, RB Alex Barnes, OL Dalton Risner, WR Byron Pringle, DB D.J. Reed, DE Reggie Walker.
Leading the charge
Jesse Ertz was a good quarterback last season. K-State is counting him being great this season. The Wildcats have historically had their best seasons when they return a quarterback with starting experience. The last six times Bill Snyder returned his leading passer from the previous the season, the Wildcats won at least nine games and averaged nearly 11 victories. Ertz completed 152 of 264 passes for 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns last season, adding another 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Quality numbers, considering he played half the year with an injured shoulder. Now healthy, K-State will look to him to provide a more consistent passing attack. With Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath returning at receiver, Ertz will get the opportunity to complement K-State’s loaded backfield of Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon.
K-State has some major holes to fill on defense. This season, the Wildcats will try to replace defensive end Jordan Willis (the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year last season), defensive back Dante Barnett (the quarterback of the secondary last season) and linebackers Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore (the team’s two leading tacklers last season). K-State appears well-positioned to replace those playmakers, but there is no substitute for experience. The pressure will be on Reggie Walker and Tanner Wood to provide a pass rush up front. It will also be on Trent Tanking and a group of unproven linebackers to make tough tackles in space. K-State’s defense topped the Big 12 against the run and ranked first in scoring last season, while having its ups and downs against the pass. The secondary should be improved behind the leadership of veteran defensive backs Kendall Adams, D.J. Reed and Duke Shelley, but it seems like K-State will still take at least a small step back on defense this season.
Is this the year K-State contends for another Big 12 championship? The ingredients are all there. K-State returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Jesse Ertz. The defense lost playmakers, but boasts experience in the secondary. The schedule couldn’t be much friendlier. Three games should determine the season: at Texas, Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State. Win two, or just the right one, and K-State could easily find itself in Arlington, Texas for the conference championship game this December.
2017 schedule and predictions
Date, Opponent, Time (TV), W/L
Sept. 2, Central Arkansas, 6:10 p.m. (ESPN3), W
Sept. 9, Charlotte, 11 a.m. (FSKC), W
Sept. 16, at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU), W
Sept. 30, Baylor, TBA, W
Oct. 7, at Texas, TBA, L
Oct. 14, TCU, TBA, W
Oct. 21, Oklahoma, TBA, L
Oct. 28, at Kansas, TBA, W
Nov. 4, at Texas Tech, TBA, W
Nov. 11, West Virginia, TBA, W
Nov. 18, at Oklahoma State, TBA, L
Nov. 25, Iowa State, TBA, W
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett