The Kansas State Wildcats have won three straight games, and are coming off a 49-26 win over #25 Texas Tech. The Wildcats are on a role, and look ready to take on anyone in the nation. The question is, where was this team two months ago? Why did we suffer through a season-opening loss to an FCS squad, two wins over awful FBS squads, and then three straight Big 12 defeats before finally clawing back here? The answer is experience.
Experience is the only reason I gave North Dakota State a chance – the Bison pretty much returned every starter from the defending FCS national champion. K-State returned Ty Zimmerman on defense. That was pretty much it among the top the of the depth chart. A fullback, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback all left after brilliant careers in Manhattan. That was an experienced team, with depth returning across the board, and it showed when the Wildcats took down Miami 52-13 in nonconference play. Bill Snyder’s squad was ready to hit the ground running.
We can’t attribute everything to experience – the entire offensive line plus John Hubert returned, yet K-State wasted half this season before it remembered how to run the ball. However, the running attack is back. And more importantly, the defense has finally jelled while quarterbacks are no longer throwing interceptions. Missed assignments, miscommunication, and poor decision-making fueled both those deficiencies in earlier in the year.
Just for fun, let’s look forward to 2014. K-State loses some important players, but the keys to success return. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams will both be back. Along the offensive line, the Wildcats will return Cody Whitehair, B.J. Finney, and Boston Stiverson but must replace its tackles. Zach Trujillo will line up at tight end, Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett return at wide receiver, and Glenn Gronkowski at fullback. The only position lacking experience will be running back.
On defense, a similar story plays out. Ty Zimmerman will move on – likely representing the loss of the defense’s most valuable player. Fortunately, Randall Evans and Dante Barnett will be back in the secondary, and both have grown tremendously this year. The beast that is Ryan Mueller will hold down the DE position, while Marquel Bryant and Travis “I want to block a kick every game” Britz return as well. Linebacker is the only position that will see much turnover, as Jon Truman is the only non-senior, but Will Davis and Mike Moore appear capable of stepping up and taking over.
In sum, that’s seven starters returning on offense and six on defense, assuming no defections during the offseason. The rest – plus punter Mark Krause – must be replaced. But the quarterback play will only improve, the defensive line should be ready to dominate, and there’s a lot to look forward to going forward. The running back situation will need to be addressed, as Robert Rose is also graduating. Some combination of DeMarcus Robinson and a JUCO transfer intrigued by the promise of immediate playing time should help here. Figure this out, and K-State could be the Baylor of 2014 – the team that struggled to start the year before closing out strong before taking the Big 12 the next season.