Kansas State Wildcats season preview

Previewing the 2014 season for the Kansas State Wildcats:

Key returners: QB Jake Waters, WR Tyler Lockett, C BJ Finney, DE Ryan Mueller

Key losses: RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, OT Cornelius Lucas, SS Ty Zimmerman

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 18 versus Auburn; Oct. 18 at Oklahoma; Oct. 25 versus Texas; Dec. 6 at Baylor

Projected win percentage: 50.7 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: DT Terrell Clinkscales, LB D'Vonta Derricott, CB Danzel McDaniel. All three players were part of Bill Snyder’s prized junior college signing class. McDaniel will have the best chance to start because he was with the team in the spring. But all three newcomers have a chance to impact the K-State defense.

High point from 2013: The Wildcats capped off their hot finish by blasting Michigan 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings. Lockett caught three first-half touchdown passes and the K-State defense held the Wolverines touchdown-less until the final 2 minutes of the game.

Low point from 2013: The season ended well. But it did not start that way. FCS opponent North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 8½ minutes and ended with a touchdown plunge that gave the Bison a stunning 24-21 win in Manhattan.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The Waters-Lockett passing connection becomes one of the best in the country, and the juco additions pan out. The Wildcats ride the momentum from last year and topple Auburn in a home nonconference tilt to set the tone for the rest of the season. K-State goes on to knock off both Oklahoma and Baylor on the road to win the Big 12 title and force the College Football Playoff selection committee to think hard and long about including the Wildcats.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The jucos don’t live up to their billing, leaving K-State with several holes on either side of the ball. Without a good option at running back, the Wildcats are forced to air it out, which gives Snyder indigestion all season. Auburn proves K-State isn’t equipped to hang with the big boys, smashing the Wildcats in Manhattan. K-State struggles along the rest of the season and has to slug out a 6-6 season just to become bowl eligible.

They said it: “My degree of optimism is negotiated daily, I think, and the mantra of our program has always been centered around that daily improvement. And when we make daily improvement, then I become a little more optimistic.” – K-State coach Bill Snyder