The 2021 football season is officially underway, with spring football practices opening over the next few weeks in the Big 12. The first of the Big 12’s ten members to start practices is the Kansas State Wildcats, who began practices last Wednesday, and wrap things up with their spring game in early April.
The Wildcats started strong last year, getting off to a 4-0 Big 12 record and knocking off top ranked Oklahoma despite dealing with a host of COVID-related issues. The Wildcats seemed to lose that momentum down the stretch, however, as they faltered in their remaining conference contests to end the season 4-6.
Like other squads around the country, Kansas State will benefit from players who were granted an extra year of eligibility. They’ll have one of the more experienced offenses in the Big 12, with almost every starter on campus again next fall. Questions remain on defense, however, where the Wildcats may rely more heavily on graduate transfers.
PRACTICE BEGINS: WED, March 3
SPRING GAME: SAT, April 3
LOCATION: Bill Snyder Family Stadium (Manhattan, KS)
Offensive Questions For The Wildcats
As solid as the Wildcats were on the ground in 2020 – breakout running back Deuce Vaughn averaged 5.2 yards per carry – they were one of the worst passing teams in the Big 12. Losing their starting quarterback to injury was only part of the problem there, as pass catchers either didn’t progress or took steps back last year. Indeed, the leading receiver for the Wildcats was even a wideout or tight end – Vaughn led the team in receptions with 25.
With elite tight end Briley Moore gone, development will be key. The leader in the receiver room last season was Chabastin Taylor, who had 293 yards receiving, but will be nursing an injury through spring. Malik Knowles looked like he could be a potential star at times last season, but he’ll need more than 13 catches in 2021.
Quarterback is a settled proposition. Skylar Thompson, in his sixth year at Kansas State, is the almost assured starter for the Wildcats, but he won’t participate in spring workouts as he recovers from surgery. That gives Kansas State an opportunity to develop the backup quarterback position, manned last season by Will Howard. Howard is dangerous with his legs, but he certainly has room to grow as a passer, having completed only 53.6 percent of his passes in 2020.
Defensive Questions For The Wildcats
The defense could look stout at times last season, but Kansas State definitely took a slight step back on that side of the ball. With a handful of starters gone from last year’s squad, the Wildcats will need to find some answers to get this unit to improve in 2021.
The secondary should have more depth than it did in 2020, especially with transfer defensive backs Russ Yeast and Julius Brents coming in. Those two could help a unit at least partially responsible for giving up 267.5 yards passing per game last season. And, after losing standout cornerback A.J. Parker to the NFL, the Wildcats can hopefully benefit from those additions.
Two new faces at linebacker will need to be identified to fill in starter roles. Look for Daniel Green, and Cody Fletcher, a “super senior,” to step into those roles after they both got some starting experience last year. Up front, one of the toughest players to replace will be All-Big 12 defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who opted to skip his senior season. A replacement for starting defensive tackle Drew Wiley will have to be found as well, but Charlotte transfer Timmy Horne, a load at over 300 pounds, is a likely candidate to end up with that role.