We are less than six months away from the start of the 2018 season and football teams all across the Big 12 are going back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills are the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear and go through practices.
It’s time for us to turn our attention to what those practices might mean. We’re giving a preview of each team in the conference and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the coming weeks.
The next team we’re looking at is coached by someone who’s done this a few times (26 times, to be precise). Yep, that’s right, it’s time to turn our attention to Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats.
Last season was a bit of letdown for the Wildcats, who many thought could have contended for the Big 12 title. Despite numerous injury issues, Kansas State found their way to 7-5 and with a big bowl win they appear to have gathered some momentum.
There are nonetheless issues that Snyder has to deal with. The offense has much of its starting lineup back, but the quarterback position needs to be sorted out. In addition, positions on defense and special teams appear to have question marks.
This could be the year that Kansas State makes their presence known in the conference race. At the same time, various issues need to be addressed. That process starts next week when the Wildcats take to the practice field.
PRACTICE BEGINS: Tuesday, March 13th
SPRING GAME DATE: Saturday, April 21st at 1:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium (Manhattan, KS)
Perhaps the biggest boon for the Wildcats is all the starters coming back on offense. There will be especially be continuity up front, where the Wildcats return all five starters and a tight end.
Even without ex-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, who left for UTEP, that experience should benefit a Kansas State rushing attack that was second in the Big 12 and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
Fullback will be a position to be filled after Dimel’s son Winston also left. Both candidates there are relatively unknown – redshirt freshman Mason Barta could step up, but Terrance Richards was listed on the depth chart last season and could fill the role.
Development will still be needed at the wide receiver, especially after some spring departures there.
Walk-on Dalton Schoen earned a scholarship after leading the team with 51 catches last season, so count him as a likely starter. A broken collarbone ended his 2017 campaign early, but Schoen should be ready to go for spring.
After having played three different quarterbacks last year, Kansas State has depth and experience behind center. Skylar Thompson looked to have a lot of potential as a redshirt freshman last season, but Alex Delton, who is more of a threat on the ground, fits nicely into the power running game of the Wildcats. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Thompson named starter while Delton is used situationally in 2018.
While the offensive side of the ball has a sizable amount of experience coming back, newly promoted defensive coordinator Blake Seiler will have plenty of work to do.
The most pressing questions are probably to be found at linebacker. Elijah Sullivan is in line to nail down a starting spot after recording 28 tackles last season, but there’s not much production coming back outside of him.
Look for senior Sam Sizelove to possibly step up. Da’Quan Patton was highly rated coming out of the JUCO ranks and could make a leap after a year in the program. Justin Hughes, a somewhat small but athletic linebacker, could also make a name for himself after backing up Trent Tanking last season.
The secondary has more experience. The Wildcats will need to find a new corner, though, and will need Jonathan Durham to step up at nickleback.
The defensive line returns standouts Reggie Walker and Trey Dishon, and each will be juniors next season.
That still leaves a defensive end and a tackle spot to be filled, however. Junior Kyle Ball, who had a fumble return in last season’s opener, could grab the starting end spot opposite Walker. Filling in defensive tackle is probably the biggest issue on the line.
Kansas State will also have to find a kicker to replace Matthew McCrane, whose leg was a reliable weapon for them last season.
For that and a lot of positions, figuring out the new lineup will be key for the Wildcats this spring. Having a veteran offensive line most likely will elevate the play of the players around them, but will new stars step up to replace the old ones? That kind of presence isn’t needed in the running game, but it might be critical for the Kansas State passing attack in 2018.
The front seven on defense, meanwhile, will need to develop some new leaders. Bill Snyder teams usually have players to fill those kinds of roles, but will that unit take a step back? The good news is that the pass defense appears to be in good hands with some veterans in the secondary. They might be the group that ends up carrying the load for at least part of next season.
Still, for a team that won eight games last year there are pieces in place for Kansas State to improve to double digits. Having some spring standouts will go a long way towards getting them there.