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Bob Lutz: K-State, Kansas must practice mean over meek

One day Texas A&M is moving to the SEC, the next Oklahoma is ranked as the best college football team in the country.

Texas starts up a $300 million television network and Oklahoma State looks like it could have its best team in years.

Meanwhile, up here in Kansas, that sound you hear is crickets.

Kansas State and Kansas are picked to finish near or at the bottom of the Big 12 in 2011. If you listen to the national experts, it sounds as if someday soon Kansas State will be booted to the Central Plains League and KU will have to rely on its basketball program to survive in a BCS conference.

These uncertain days for the Big 12 are especially gloomy in the Sunflower State, where the football fates of both schools rests on how well newcomers adapt and veterans improve.

But I say all hope is not lost, especially at K-State.

The Wildcats did play in a bowl game after finishing 7-5 in the regular season. K-State scored points and K-State gave up points. It's the second part of that sentence the Wildcats would like to shore up.

Kansas?

Well, how do you top a season-opening loss to North Dakota State? By beating Georgia Tech in Week 2. But high spots were hard to come by for the Jayhawks, who were 3-9 and in most games caused their fans to turn away from the action because it was so difficult, and depressing, to watch.

Turner Gill's first season as KU's coach gave us no indication of whether he's the right man for this job. Year 2 should be more illuminating, especially if some of the young players Gill has brought into the program start to develop and contribute.

Wins and losses aren't the barometer at Kansas; improvement is.

If K-State is to do better than expected — and a .500 regular season seems to be the most popular prediction — what needs to happen?

And is KU, the trendy pick to finish dead last in the Big 12, capable of doing better?

Maybe, but these are some of the players that need to contribute for it to happen:

Kansas State

QB Collin Klein — When K-State coach Bill Snyder recruited Jesse Tuggle out of Blinn (Texas) Junior College, you can bet your bottom dollar he was hoping he was bringing another Michael Bishop type to Manhattan. It's not working out that way. For whatever reason, Tuggle should be spelled S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E. So, Klein is the guy. He's big and pretty fast, but is he really a Big 12-quality quarterback?

We know he can run. In fact, he's a brute at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. He was the Wildcats' second-leading rusher last season with nearly 500 yards and a 5.6-yard average.

But Klein threw only 18 passes. He has a reputation for not being accurate. If he can't keep opposing defenses honest, the running game Coach Bill Snyder loves to lean on will suffer.

Klein is the guy. He's expected to be in the game for every down. There is no quarterback platoon system being planned. Can he get the job done?

LB Arthur Brown — K-State's defense was atrocious last season. You already knew that. Brown, a transfer from Miami (Fla.), is expected to provide instant improvement. Problem is, Brown wasn't a difference maker in two seasons at Miami. So are the expectations too high? Not according to those who have seen Brown in scrimmages and practices last season and so far this season. For K-State's defense to improve, Brown has to be the real deal.

RB Bryce Brown — Listen, I don't care who the other running backs are. I don't care how well they've played or how easily they've fit into the system. If Brown isn't the main backfield weapon, there is a problem. He was all-everything coming out of Wichita East. He was good as a freshman at Tennessee. If Brown isn't the main running threat for K-State in 2011, there is an issue.

Kansas

QB Jordan Webb — Boy, it kind of feels like Webb got this job by default since freshman Brock Berglund won't be practicing with the team this season while he deals with legal issues in Colorado. KU fans want to get behind Webb, but they're too busy wringing their hands to jump all the way on board. You wonder what he could do with a good offensive line and a talented group of receivers, neither of which he had last season. Top receiver Daymond Patterson is back and D.J. Beshears is another speedy receiver. But they're both 5-foot-9. Webb needs bigger targets.

KU's receiving corps — Who from a group of six or seven will step up to help Webb and the passing game?

Chris Matthews, Chris Omigie, Kale Pick and Erick McGriff have a little experience. Redshirt freshmen Bicki Herod, Andrew Turzilli and Brian Maura could be in the mix. Freshmen JaCorey Shepherd and Marquis Jackson might even get a chance if it falls to them. But somebody — preferably someone with size — has to be a viable receiving option if Webb and the Jayhawks are to do much offensively.

DE Toben Opurum — It appears the linebacker position will remain a strength for the Jayhawks, who move to a 3-4 defensive scheme this season, even with the losses of several key linebackers. Senior Steven Johnson should be one of the best defensive players in the Big 12.

The question marks about KU's defense — and there are more than a few — include the defensive line. One reason the Jayhawks are using four linebackers is to try and help the line.

Opurum, a converted running back, needs to be a solid or better defensive end. He has to help stuff the run and get to the quarterback, a skill the Jayhawks sorely lacked in 2010. When Gill moved Opurum to defense — first to linebacker, then to end — he insisted it was because he thought Opurum could be a game changer. It hasn't happened yet. It needs to.

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