As college football continues to try and ramp up for the upcoming season, we continue to look closely at what to expect from each Big 12 team. Throughout summer and now into the fall, we’re previewing the entire conference, providing an overview of the offense, defense, and special teams. Included as well is a projected depth chart, with returning starters in bold.
Kansas State went into 2019 with a new head coach not named Bill Snyder for the first time in over a decade, and the results were promising. In Year One, Chris Klieman went 3-0 in the non-conference, including a win over SEC opponent Mississippi State, and snagged an upset victory over No. 4 Oklahoma to give the first year head coach the kind of signature win that will keep hope alive in most any program.
A bowl loss to Navy marked a disappointing end to an otherwise successful inaugural campaign, but the Wildcats surprised a lot of folks with their overall success. After doing so well with a veteran group of experienced players, Klieman now moves forward after losing eight starters on offense. Knowing that Kansas State won four games by a touchdown or less last season, what kind of expectations should be placed on a squad that might not have the same results in close contests?
Projected 2020 Kansas State Depth Chart
|WR||Malik Knowles (Sr.)||DE||Bronson Massie (Sr.)|
|LT||Kaitori Leveston (So.)||DT||Drew Wiley (Sr.)|
|LG||Josh Rivas (Jr.)||DT||Robert Hentz (Sr.)|
|C||Noah Johnson (Sr.)||DE||Wyatt Hubert (Jr.)|
|RG||Ben Adler (Jr.)||MLB||Elijah Sullivan (Sr.)|
|RT||Christian Duffie (So.)||WLB||Justin Hughes (Sr.)|
|TE||Nick Lenners (Jr.)||NB||Jahron McPherson (Sr.)|
|QB||Skylar Thompson (Sr.)||CB||A.J. Parker (Sr.)|
|FB||Mason Barta (Jr.)||SS||Wayne Jones (So.)|
|RB||Harry Trotter (Sr.)||FS||Jonathan Alexander (Sr.)|
|WR||Wykeen Gill (Sr.)||CB||Walter Neil Jr. (Sr.)|
Kansas State Offensive Outlook
The most pressing concern for the Wildcats will come up front, where Kansas State will have to replace five starting offensive linemen. Look for junior Josh Rivas to find a starting spot after having played in several games at Kansas State. Outside of him, however, there’s not much experience, meaning that offensive line coach Conor Riley will have his work cut out for him in Year Two.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson will return to provide a veteran presence on this team after playing in 32 contests for Kansas State. Thompson contributed 2,720 yards running and passing combined under a new offensive staff, and will be hoping to provide even more production as a senior. Expect senior Harry Trotter to take up the starting running back spot after posting 263 yards last season.
The wide receiver room is full of promise, with Wykeen Gill, Malik Knowles, and Phillip Brooks all back. Those three were second, third, and fourth in receiving yards for the Wildcats last year, so they’re shouldn’t be much drop-off in the pass-catching department, if there is any at all.
Kansas State Defensive Outlook
There are fewer questions on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats, who ranked second in scoring defense in the Big 12 last year. Still, Kansas State will need to find three starters along the defensive line. There could be three seniors to step in and fill those roles, including Drew Wiley, who played in every game last season. The good news, of course, is that All-Big 12 defensive end Wyatt Hubert will be back at his starting spot in 2020.
Will linebacker should be filled by Justin Hughes, who was headed for a strong showing in 2019 before an ACL injury ended his season. Hughes and starting middle linebacker Elijah Sullivan should be a solid duo for the Wildcats.
Four of five defensive backs return from a secondary that helped hold opposing offenses to 202.9 yards per game passing in 2019. With corners like Walter Neil Jr. and A.J. Parker, expect this to be one of the better units in the Big 12. A new starter will need to be found at free safety, but look for senior Jonathan Alexander to be a strong candidate in that role.
Kansas State Special Teams Outlook
Look for Kansas State to have the most potent return game in the conference this year, with both Joshua Youngblood, Malik Knowles, and Phillip Brooks back to return kicks and punts. The Wildcats were at the top of the conference in both categories. What’s more, kicker Blake Lynch could be the best in the Big 12 after making 90.5 percent of field goals last season. An answer will have to be found at punter, but if they’ve got a solid answer there, this could be one of the best special teams units in the country.
With so much experience lost offensively from last year’s squad, this season is going to require Kansas State to develop quickly on that side of the ball in order to prevent a backslide. That’s a tall task for a head coach in his second season at the FBS level, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats struggle to get the same production out of their running game that they did in 2019.
The defensive side of the ball should be strong in 2020, but they’ll need find a way to shore up a run defense that gave up 5 yards per carry last season. If they can do that, the Wildcats can avoid a big step back in the second year of the Klieman Era, but this could very well be a team that struggles to get to .500 and match their 5-4 conference record from a year ago.
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