Spring preview: Kansas State
Kansas State opened spring practice on Wednesday in preparation for its spring game on April 27.
Let's take a look at some of the issues surrounding Bill Snyder's Wildcats as they come off of their Big 12 championship and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, where they lost to Oregon.
US PRESSWIRECan Daniel Sams hold off junior-college transfer Jake Waters for the starting job?
Replacing Klein: With the exception of the savvy veteran head coach, Collin Klein was Kansas State football over the last two seasons. Besides Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, no player was as valuable to his team last year as Klein was to K-State. The 6-5, 225-pound Heisman Trophy finalist was often a one-man show for the Wildcats, recording over 6,600 yards and 79 total touchdowns in 2011 and 2012. And for as many times as he carried the football, he fought through injuries and remained relatively healthy. So now the offense will likely be turned over to Daniel Sams, who played last season when Klein was sidelined with a concussion. The 6-2, 204-pounder averaged over 7.0 yards per carry and had three touchdowns in 2012, and he will try to continue to keep the dual-threat pipeline going in Manhattan. But filling Klein's huge shoes will be a tough task. Junior-college transfer Jake Waters is also participating in spring practice after enrolling in January, and he broke the NJCAA record for completion percentage in 2012 (Cam Newton's old record) while passing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns against three interceptions on his way to a 12-0 mark and a national championship. But I think the experience and dual-threat nature of Sams in this system will make it tough for him to lose the job.
Reloading the defense: The Wildcats have just one — yes, one — defensive starter returning from last season. And the biggest issue will be replacing Big 12 defensive player of the year Arthur Brown, the linebacker who should be very productive at the next level. Safety Ty Zimmerman is the lone defensive starter back, so Snyder once again will be relying on early enrollees to step in. Six of them are junior-college transfers, led by end Devon Nash from Iowa Western Community College, outside linebacker Dakorey Johnson from Trinity Valley Community College and cornerback Nate Jackson from the College of San Mateo. Although Snyder has had great success mining the JUCO ranks, recruiting the "right" player is never an exact science, so the progress of these new Wildcats will be monitored closely. In terms of returning players who will need to emerge for coordinator Tom Hayes, end Ryan Mueller could be disruptive along the line after recording two sacks as a reserve, while senior linebacker Tre Walker is back healthy and should provide immeasurable leadership after missing significant time with a right knee injury last season.
The new face of the offense: Klein may be gone, but the Wildcats welcome back John Hubert, who is one of the more underrated running backs in the nation. He has rushed for over 900 yards both in 2011 and 2012 and should see an increased workload after recording 18 touchdowns the past two seasons. He'll be running behind an experienced offensive line.
— With Chris Harper gone, Tyler Lockett is the top receiving option for the Wildcats. And he is a true playmaker who is tough to catch when he gets behind a defense. Perhaps K-State will line him up all over the field as well and take advantage of his athleticism, especially if a true vertical game isn't present if Sams wins the quarterback job.