(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
2015 record: 6-7, 3-6 (eighth Big 12)
Projected 2016 record: 6-6, 4-5 Big 12
Key starters lost: WR Kody Cook, OL Cody Whitehair, OL Boston Stiverson, DT Travis Britz, DB Morgan Burns.
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Key starters returning: QB Jesse Ertz, RB Charles Jones, OL Dalton Risner, LB Elijah Lee, DB Dante Barnett, DT Will Geary, DE Jordan Willis
Leading the charge
Jesse Ertz needs to stay healthy and play at a higher level than K-State’s quarterbacks did a year ago. The Wildcats completed just 47 percent of their passes last season without Ertz. The addition of Byron Pringle and Isaiah Harris at receiver should help K-State improve on offense. On defense, the Wildcats should be strong against the run. The bulk of the front seven returns from a year ago, with Will Geary, Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore leading the way.
K-State will have a new offensive line this season. The Wildcats lost four starting blockers and the lone returner switched from center to guard. How quickly can they adjust to their new roles? Also, can Dante Barnett return toughness to the secondary? The Wildcats were solid against the run last year, and that shouldn’t change with a strong front seven, but struggled mightily against the pass.
The Wildcats should be an improved team simply by staying healthy this season. Ertz and Pringle should boost the offense. Barnett should boost the defense. But K-State will be at a talent disadvantage against most teams on its schedule. Road games against Stanford, Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor won’t be easy. It’s fair to expect K-State to take a step forward, but maybe only a small one.
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett
Blair Kerkhoff’s projection
at West Virginia
at Iowa State