Kansas State has already began preseason camp and hosts a local media day later Monday. Let's have a closer look at the defending Big 12 champs.
Schedule: The Wildcats practices began on Saturday after players reported on Friday. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is scheduled to be on hand later Monday at the media day in Manhattan, too. K-State opens its season with a Friday night game at home against North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS national champions.
Setting the scene: It seems like all too often, the season is ignored when it comes to Kansas State and preseason projections. The Wildcats didn't get much respect last season after winning 10 games, and the same is essentially true this year, despite winning their first Big 12 title since 2003. The obvious reason is K-State returns just eight starters from last year's team, fewer than all but two teams in college football (Troy, Louisiana Tech). The biggest losses are quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. K-State has got its work cut out for it in the next month.
All eyes on: The quarterback competition. Despite all those losses, the offense is still in pretty good shape. All five offensive line starters return, headlined by center B.J. Finney and tackle Cornelius Lucas. John Hubert is a three-year starter at running back who's on track for 1,000 yards this season. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams will compete to replace Klein in a wide-open competition. Both are mobile, though Sams' straight-line speed is truly something to behold. He'd be the fastest quarterback in the Big 12 if he wins the job. Both put on a show in the spring game with their ability to throw, even if it came against the defense's backups, as is the custom in K-State's spring game format. All bets are off in this competition, which should be compelling. Smart money says K-State will be happy with the outcome regardless of the winner.
On the mend: Linebacker Tre Walker. Walker was a solid right-hand man to Arthur Brown a year ago before a fluky knee injury against Texas Tech ended his season early. He's healthy now and back on the field as one major piece of a defense that badly, badly needs experience. He and safety Ty Zimmerman are two of the league's best at their position and should provide outstanding leadership.
Key battle: The defensive line. K-State's defensive line was way underrated as a whole last season, but Meshak Williams and cohorts Adam Davis, Vai Lutui and Javonta Boyd are all gone, leaving K-State to replace the entire unit. Sorting out a two-deep will be a big part of camp for the Wildcats. Ryan Mueller contributed a year ago and should likely win a starting job at end, but projecting most others won't be easy. Travis Britz should be in the mix at tackle alongside Chaquil Reed and Demonte Hood and Matt Seiwert, who all had strong springs.
Outlook: Kansas State will begin the season just outside the coaches poll and picked sixth in the Big 12. It's the same place it was a year ago when it won the league. The AP poll will be released later this month, which could include the Wildcats, but it's clear there are fewer believers in the Cats this time around. They changed a ton of minds by winning at Oklahoma in September last season. Could they do the same with wins at Texas and/or Oklahoma State in their first Big 12 games this season?
Quotable: Bill Snyder, on inexperienced teams. "Young guys have come into our program and come into other programs and been there first year and done extremely well. Some do, some don't. I've got a young guy down here in College Station that came on the scene, and nobody had a clue that he was going to get himself on the field, and ended up winning a Heisman. You just never really know."