Bill Snyder knew the question was coming.
Kansas State’s secondary has been hurt by late-season injuries in three straight seasons, forcing the Wildcats to evaluate replacement options leading into three straight bowls, so he was ready Tuesday when reporters asked who will fill in for sidelined free safeties Travis Green and Dylan Schellenberg at the Alamo Bowl.
This time around, his answer was heavy on levity.
“It is going to be (defensive coordinator Tom) Hayes or I,” Snyder said. “I’m not sure which. He is younger, so we will probably let him do it.”
Identifying a substitute defensive back is no laughing matter, of course. In each of the past two years, strong safety Ty Zimmerman speedily bounced back from injuries in time to play in the Fiesta Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. But the Wildcats won’t be so lucky at the Alamo Bowl.
Green is out with a season-ending knee injury. Schellenberg fractured his leg against Baylor and will also miss the postseason.
K-State must turn to an unproven player in their absence, though Nate Jackson and nickelback Randall Evans filled in for Schellenberg against Baylor. Snyder, after telling his joke, listed two more possibilities at his first news conference since the end of the season: redshirt freshman Corey Jackson and freshman Kaleb Prewett.
“There are a number of guys we have worked with back there,” Snyder said. “Corey Jackson is a possibility. Kaleb Prewett is a possibility. Both of them have taken repetition back there and have done pretty well, but no decision has been made on how that will play out at game time.”
Jackson, who is 5-feet-9, played at St. Joseph Central.
Prewett, a 6-foot-1 player from Blue Springs High School, might have the most upside of the group. Rather than redshirt him, Snyder asked Prewett to contribute on special teams in his first college season.
K-State has big plans for him down the line.
“He is very athletic,” strong safety Dante Barnett said. “Any player who comes in right out of high school and plays, even on special teams, has to be very athletic and more mature than most of the other freshmen.”
Evans said he offered to switch to free safety, if necessary, but coaches told him they were confident enough in his teammates to keep him at his natural position.
“I feel very confident in those guys, because I see the work that they do and they work hard,” Evans said. “They understand what it takes.”
Barnett is preparing for any scenario. He was at the center of K-State’s injury streak at safety in 2012 when Zimmerman was unable to close out the season against Baylor and Texas, stepping in as his replacement and subbing in occasionally at the Fiesta Bowl.
Last year, he spent late portions of the season adjusting to Schellenberg and then playing alongside Zimmerman once again in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, making enough plays to win defensive MVP honors.
He expects similar results at the Alamo Bowl, regardless of his partner in the secondary.
“It is football. Any time you go through a season you might have injuries,” Barnett said. “You never know what is going to happen. Whenever you have a new safety, it is just part of the game.… Even during fall camp, we put players in different positions for scenarios exactly like this. Bad things happen and we are just going to roll with it.”
▪ WHO: No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 14 UCLA
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 5:45 p.m. Jan. 2 in San Antonio
▪ TV: ESPN