1. K-State’s Interior Defensive Line
North Dakota State has a formidable offensive line. The team averaged - averaged - 4.8 yards per carry last year, and four of five starters return (they will be breaking in a new center). Kansas State does not have a starter return to the defensive front four.
I’m not afraid of the defensive end position production this year for K-State. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis were too talented to simply replace without worrying about some drop-off, but Ryan Mueller should be a beast this season and Marquel Bryant is serviceable. Chaquil Reed and Travis Britz take over starting duties at defensive tackle, as was announced during today’s afternoon press conference. How effective will they be at occupying the interior of NDSU’s offensive line and preventing big runs between the tackles? The team’s success this year may hinge on the answer to that question.
2. The Playbook
Bill Snyder is notoriously conservative in his play calling against lesser nonconference foes. Last year the Wildcats only led FCS Missouri State by the score of 9-6 at halftime (before blowing the second half wide open). In 2011, the team almost lost to FCS Eastern Kentucky – the Wildcats trailed 7-3 with less than two minutes to play until Collin Klein found Chris Harper for a 33 yard strike to secure a 10-7 lead.
There was a huge discrepancy in talent in both those games, but the play-calling was as vanilla and predictable as a spring scrimmage. North Dakota State is another FCS opponent, but the Bison are on a different level – they return 18 starters from a team that’s won back-to-back national championships. Does Snyder try to win on talent alone, or does the coaching staff pull out a couple tricks early in the season for a change?
3. Can Jake Waters Be Devastating On The Next Level?
The team announced Waters would start on Monday, and I’m anxiously waiting to see how he looks this Friday. Waters broke the completion percentage record set by Cam Newton at the NJCAA level, and has the chance to be special. NDSU has one of, if not the best cornerback in the FCS Division in Marcus Williams. Williams finished 2012 with 39 tackles and seven interceptions. Media seems to indicate North Dakota State has the best, deepest secondary in the nation and throwing against the team is not to be taken lightly. If Waters can still hit on 70 percent of his throws, the Big 12 better look out.
4. Special Teams Performance
New place kicker. New punter. New long snapper. New blockers and gunners. K-State returns the best kick/punt return duo in Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, but there are questions just about everywhere else. Anthony Cantele and Ryan Doerr were among the most reliable kicker/punter combos in the nation last year, and K-State fans will be watching to see whether their replacements demonstrate similar dependability. A solid 60 yard return by either Lockett or Thompson at some point would go a long way to building confidence for the team.
5. The Little Things
The principal foundation of Snyderball is doing the little things that win games. Bill Snyder is the most meticulous coach in college football, and demands the same attention to detail from his players. That’s why the team doesn’t take stupid penalties, wins the turnover battle, and doesn’t display missed assignments to the degree of other teams (just ask Bryce Brown what happens to players that miss assignments…). So with a mostly new defense on the field this year, are the players able to work together, maintain assignment, and be a complete team again in 2013? The team was third nationally in turnover margin, forcing 31 and only ceding 12 in 2012. Hopefully the defense can force a couple fumbles and Waters avoids throwing interceptions (his ratio at Iowa Western last year was 39 touchdowns to three interceptions). Do these things, and we’ll know the team is poised to continue its dominance in the Big 12.