Collin Klein, undrafted last spring, is still in Manhattan, Kan., working out for his next NFL opportunity. And he’s as excited as anyone to see how this quarterback battle plays out.
“I think the competition will do nothing but make them better,” Klein told ESPN.com on Sunday. “It’s not an easy process from a player’s perspective. There’s uncertainty; there are up and down days. You’ve got to really focus on being the best you can possibly be, and they’ll both be better for it.”
Amid all the attention the rest of the Big 12 quarterback battles garnered this month, somehow the one replacing the Heisman Trophy finalist and Big 12 Athlete of the Year went overlooked.
Klein accounted for close to 70 percent of KSU’s total offense last season. What he brought to the Wildcat program, beyond reaching a No. 2 BCS ranking and winning the Big 12 title, is incalculable.
That’s why KSU coach Bill Snyder doesn’t talk about his decision in terms of passing and rushing yards. This isn’t about objective statistical performance. Because, in truth, he could get good numbers from either candidate.
What Kansas State needs is a leader.
“I appreciate the competitiveness of it and also the fact that they are providing quality leadership,” Snyder said on Aug. 5. “They are helping each other and showing a tremendous amount of unselfishness.”
Most of the talk about Snyder’s big decision has centered on understanding the offense. Sams, entering his third year in the program, would seem to have an undeniable advantage there, but Waters has been given every opportunity to make up ground.
Of the many differences between these two quarterbacks, that experience might be most important. But look closer at each and you appreciate just what a difficult decision this might be for Snyder and his staff.
Sams is a proven commodity as a rusher, picking up 235 yards (7.3 per carry) and three scores last season. Even though he has attempted only eight passes as a Wildcat, his predecessor knows the sophomore is capable of big things.
“He’s just an electric player,” Klein said. “He’s very athletically gifted and can make something really special out of nothing. He’s a truly gifted player.”
Sams has been around long enough to know all the ins and outs of what offensive coordinator Dana Dimel expects. He knows the playbook from cover to cover by now. This fall camp has been about fine-tuning.
“I am very comfortable with the offense, but I try not to get complacent because I know the offense well,” Sams said this month. “I still try to work on timing with the receivers and find chemistry and let everything else fall into place.”
One thing is certain: Waters is a winner. He took over an Iowa Western Community College program entering only its fourth year in existence and won a national junior college championship in 2012. Including his high school career, he’s 49-2 as a starter.
“This is a great kid,” Klein said. “He works very hard, studies very hard, picks things up fairly quickly. So yeah, he’s going to be good.”
For Snyder and Dimel, it won’t be as simple as just picking one guy over the other. Dimel already has admitted publicly that Sams will have a role in the offense even if he’s not the starter. The KSU staff wants the ball in his hands.
It might seem like Kansas State and its offense are at a crossroads while everyone waits for Snyder’s decision. They’re just too different to suggest the offense will perform the same with either at the helm. But keep this in mind: The battle isn’t really over on Saturday.
Klein won’t be surprised if their competition continues to be waged during the season. He expects both passers to play at some point, and he knows that’s not an easy proposition for anyone involved.
“It’s something, as a player, you can’t control and you’ve just got to do your best every day and let the coaches be coaches and make those decisions,” Klein said. “It’s not an easy or fun process at times, but it’s about what’s best for the team, and if that’s what they think is best for the team, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
And as long as he’s still working out in the Little Apple, he said he’d be happy to help out Waters and Sams if they’re ever in need.
Just don’t ask Klein to make any predictions on who’s winning his old job.
“I’m going to keep quiet just like everybody else,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how coach likes it, and it’s probably better for the team.”