2012 College Football Team Previews

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At some point, someone might figure out that Kansas State is probably going to be pretty good with Bill Snyder as coach.

Maybe ignorance is not even the issue. It could just be the strength of the Big 12. Maybe that was why, in spite of 13 returning starters, as well as both kickers, off a team that finished second in the conference last season, the Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in 2012.

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Nonetheless, that pick implies Kansas State will not improve enough to cope with the addition of TCU and West Virginia, the presence of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, nor whatever strides will be made by Texas, a team the Wildcats have beaten four consecutive times.

Not that Snyder cares one bit about preseason polling.

"I don't know how good we'll be," he said. "If I were voting, I'd probably put us 99th or something like that."

The Wildcats feature the best rushing quarterback in the country, Collin Klein, as well as one of the top run-stopping linebackers, Arthur Brown. Those two seniors will try to maintain a resurgence that propelled Kansas State into the Cotton Bowl, where a loss to Arkansas capped a 10-3 run last season.

Questions do exist.

Kansas State was outgained by 106 yards per game last year, capitalizing on ball control and turnover margin to keep games close. They rallied to win six games. Eight victories were by single digits.

As long as the Wildcats depend heavily on their ground attack, games could remain tight. After a nice breakout season a year ago, running back John Hubert will be asked to take some of the workload off Klein. In turn, Klein will try to click more in the passing game with his veteran receivers, though that group remains largely unproven.

Brown, the first K-State tackler to record 100 stops since 2006, will be accompanied by other playmakers on defense. Cornerback Nigel Malone broke in as a junior-college transfer last season and grabbed seven interceptions, while defensive end Meshak Williams stepped up late in the year and posted seven sacks.

The potential is there for Kansas State to surprise again, as long as you base that surprise on where the Wildcats were picked in the Big 12 preseason poll. After being picked to finish eighth in 2011, any disrespect from the outside is expected, and usually ignored.

"Sometimes we get caught up in the fact that people are not looking at us in a certain way or people are not ranking us in a certain way," said junior linebacker Tre Walker. "We really shouldn't. We really should just worry about what numbers we put up and how our team is progressing."

HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 21st year at Kansas State, 159-83-1 record as a head coach.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Collin Klein -- As a junior, Klein could have been the most valuable player in all of college football considering he factored into two-thirds of Kansas State's snaps. He overcame several hard knocks on his 317 rushing attempts to start every game, despite missing two weeks' worth of practice. His leadership and experience should be even more influential as a senior, though it's unlikely Klein can take the same pounding.

BREAKOUT STAR: LB Justin Tuggle -- Redshirted a year ago after arriving at Kansas State as a junior-college transfer who figured to vie for the quarterback job. He will move into the open outside linebacker spot and has the size and athleticism to sparkle alongside two veterans, Brown and Walker.

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NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DT Wesley Hollingshed -- Figures to provide immediate help on the defensive interior as a junior-college transfer from Trinity Valley. Ranked as the 47th-best juco prospect by Rivals, Hollingshed moves into a position group where Kansas State typically uses a four-man rotation to keep tackles fresh.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Coping with the road, which was never a certainty at Kansas State because of Snyder's distaste for playing anywhere but home, will be critical if the Wildcats are to come close to approaching the same success as last season. Five conference road games include stern tests at Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU. Senior leaders such as Brown and Klein should help with those challenges, though a 44-48 all-time record on the road under Snyder suggests some bumps lie ahead.

AREAS OF CONCERN: Although Kansas State improved defensively last season, it relied heavily on takeaways, including Malone's seven interceptions. The Wildcats must make more stops and have the potential to do so with several key veterans returning. More consistency is also needed from the passing game, which often was used to free Klein on quarterback scrambles. Receivers need to gain better separation, though that group, which will be led by senior Chris Harper, is largely the same and lacks size.


-- Kansas State has its third defensive coordinator since Snyder returned as head coach in 2009 when Tom Hayes takes over this season and replaces Chris Cosh, who left for South Florida. Hayes spent last season as the Wildcats' secondary coach and previously served as a defensive coordinator at UCLA, Oklahoma, Kansas and Stanford. "Philosophically we'll stay pretty much the same," Snyder said. "Tom has some thoughts that certainly will enter into it." Hayes began his career as an assistant for his alma mater, Iowa, just before Snyder joined the Hawkeyes' staff as an assistant under Hayden Fry.

-- Among the matters Klein tended to during the offseason was his own wedding. After dating Shalin Spani, a former Kansas State basketball player, for just a few weeks, he proposed and the two were married in July following a five-month engagement. Spani is the daughter of former Kansas State All-America linebacker Gary Spani, who remains the Kansas City Chiefs' all-time leading tackler. Marriage, Snyder said, should not change his star QB.

-- WR Marquez Clark, considered the top recruit in Kansas State's 2012 class, was unable to gain his eligibility as a junior-college transfer and enrolled instead at Division II Central Oklahoma. Clark had 98 receptions for 1,639 yards last season at Navarro (Texas) Community College.

-- WR Tyler Lockett was cleared for fall camp after missing the spring game with a strained hamstring. Lockett suffered a lacerated kidney, which kept him out of the final five games in 2011, when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a true freshman.

-- OL Ellwood Clement and DL Chaquil Reed did not participate in summer conditioning while attempting to complete academic requirements at their respective junior colleges before transferring to Kansas State.

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