Camp is open up in Manhattan. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.
Next up: Kansas State.
Media's predicted finish: Sixth
Biggest story line: Kansas State won eight games a year ago by one score or less. Only two were by at least two scores, and the Wildcats had two lopsided losses to Oklahoma and Arkansas, losing just one close game all season, a 52-45 road loss to Big 12 champ Oklahoma State. Add it all up, and people are skeptical of the Big 12's biggest surprise in 2011. The Wildcats won 10 games and return 17 starters, including their two best players -- QB Collin Klein and LB Arthur Brown -- and what's their reward? K-State's picked sixth in the league now, instead of eighth.
Biggest question mark: Klein's right arm. Klein scared defenses with his legs, and got a lot better as a passer as the season wore on, but how much growth is left for the league's biggest and toughest QB? If he shows up with a vastly improved arm this fall, K-State's offense may be close to unstoppable, even if its slow pace keeps it from finishing in the top half of the no-huddle, pass-frenzied world of Big 12 offenses.
Fun fact: It's all in the family at K-State these days. Coach Bill Snyder's grandson, Tate, is a sophomore linebacker on this year's team, and incoming freshman Glenn Gronkowski will play fullback and tight end, just like his older brother Rob, who caught 17 touchdowns for the Patriots last season. Gronkowski has two more older brothers who also play in the NFL now.
On the mend: WR/KR Tyler Lockett. Lockett missed the last part of 2011 with a lacerated kidney, but healed up in time for spring. The problem? The Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year suffered another minor injury just before the spring game and had to sit out again. He's healthy, though, and ready to make the most of his sophomore season.
Who needs to step up: Receivers. The pass-catchers let Klein down in the Cotton Bowl, and the duo of Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson is pretty underrated across the league. K-State's run-heavy offense simply doesn't allow them to put up very big numbers. They're back, and so is Lockett, but the margin of error is small for these guys. They need to catch everything and make plays when they get the ball in their hands to make defenses respect K-State's passing game.
Don't forget about: DE Meshak Williams. I put Williams on my preseason All-Big 12 team, but he's not quite as respected around the league as he should be. He's no physical marvel, but he's got the high motor coaches love, and he's productive. Leave him without a second lineman in his face at your own peril, Big 12 offenses.