Kansas State University

K-State Q&A: How will the Wildcats replace Isaiah Zuber at receiver?

It’s time for another K-State Q&A.

We have lots of great topics to cover this week, so let’s get right to them. Thanks, as always, for your participation.

Isaiah Zuber’s decision to look for a new college football home as a graduate transfer was bad news for the Kansas State Wildcats.

When he was at his best last season, he was really good. Zuber caught a game-winning touchdown pass against South Dakota, erupted for 10 catches and 133 yards against West Virginia and seemed to have terrific chemistry with Skylar Thompson while catching seven passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa State.

You never want to lose a senior receiver with that type of production and experience.

That being said, he’s not irreplaceable.

Zuber was also bad enough at times last season to get benched, go without a catch against TCU and lose several costly turnovers on special teams that made Bill Snyder lose his mind.

No one truly knew what to expect from Zuber as a senior. Would he recover from hip surgery and regain his place as the team’s top statistical receiver? Or would he struggle to adapt to Chris Klieman’s offense and take on more of a complementary role alongside Dalton Schoen, Malik Knowles, Chabastin Taylor, Wykeen Gill, Phillip Brooks and newcomers Joshua Youngblood and Keenan Garber?

We will never know.

It’s a little scary to look at what K-State returns at receiver in terms of stats. Schoen led the bunch with 32 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns last season. Knowles was next with 10 catches for 100 yards and two scores. No one else approached triple digits. But experience might not matter as much under Klieman as it did under Snyder. The next oldest player on the roster won’t be promoted to a starting spot unless he has the talent to make plays. Klieman seems much more willing to use young talent and will essentially be forced to do so next season.

Receiver looked like the strongest position on the team at the end of spring practice with Hunter Rison (suspended indefinitely) and Zuber (transferring) projected as starters. That’s not the case any longer, but there is still talent there. I really think all seven of the players I mentioned above could make a difference next season.

And now, after all that build up, it’s time to actually answer your question.

My projected starters at receiver (about 100 days ahead of the season) are Dalton Schoen and Malik Knowles. Klieman used predominantly two-receiver formations at North Dakota State, and that will probably still be the case at K-State. Here’s guessing Wykeen Gill gets the call when the Wildcats need three receivers.

Schoen is dependable and the coaches like him. Knowles has a high ceiling, but is only a redshirt freshman. Gill could be the team’s deep threat. But I think Klieman will work to get a lot of receivers involved.

At NDSU last year, Darrius Shepherd led the team with 62 catches for 1,065 yards, but eight other players were threats to catch passes in every game. I expect something similar.

There certainly is a great deal of mystery involved with K-State’s skill players right now. They are starting to remind me of the roster Jimmy McGinty assembled to play for the Washington Sentinels in “The Replacements.” If nothing else, they will be fun to watch.

It was definitely a surprise. I didn’t see that transfer coming, especially after Zuber spent a semester taking mental reps in spring practice under Klieman.

But there tends to be a late wave of transfers that choose to play elsewhere when school ends each year, and Zuber is among that group.

Why did he decide to transfer? I can’t say for sure. But he never seemed to wow the coaching staff and they made it clear he was going to have to work for a starting job just like everyone else. No one promised him playing time because he had good stats last year. That might have caused some friction.

As a graduate transfer, he has the freedom to play immediately somewhere else next season. So he is taking advantage.

It’s too early to form a strong opinion on anything about Klieman and his new coaching staff. And it’s way too early to panic.

K-State players seemed to really enjoy playing for him this spring, but that probably would have been the case under any new coach. Let’s see how they react when practices get more serious in the summer and actual games begin next fall.

Some players have opted to transfer, but Zuber is the only big name among them. Most were walk-ons or backups without much playing time in their futures. That doesn’t seem very concerning.

Snyder didn’t leave Klieman the most talented of rosters, so his first season in Manhattan won’t be easy to judge, either.

Recruiting is the one area that we can start to jump to conclusions on. Striking out with in-state recruits like Turner Corcoran, Ky Thomas and Hayden Pauls was concerning, but it’s not like they were ever considered K-State locks. You can blame the old coaching staff for those misses as much as the current coaching staff. Overall, Klieman’s 2020 recruiting class looks solid. The Wildcats have six pledges and beat out strong competition for most of them. K-State is on pace for one of its best recruiting classes in a long time.

I like the work Klieman put in replenishing the running back position for 2019. But we will have to wait and see how good his six new ball-carriers are next season.

Everything is in wait-and-see mode right now.

I think DaJuan Gordon could (notice the emphasis on that word) turn out to be the best recruit Bruce Weber has signed at K-State.

The 6-foot-3 guard from Chicago is coming off a heck of a senior year in which he averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds. The Chicago Sun-Times thought enough of him to pick him as player of the year, which is a huge honor in that city.

Gordon didn’t have all that much recruiting hype when he signed with K-State, but now he’s a consensus top 150 prospect with four stars next to his name.

He can score and he has some size. And he gets to tryout for Weber’s U19 World Cup Team this summer. He’s the type of player Weber would have loved to have landed when he was at Illinois, and is probably privately dancing about now that he got him at K-State.

I’m not saying he will definitely be the next Jacob Pullen, who coincidentally is also from the Chicago area, but I think he has a very high ceiling. His late surge in the high school ranks reminds me of Marcus Foster.

Anything can happen once Gordon steps on campus, but he could (there’s that word again) have a very bright future.

As you can probably guess after reading my previous answer, I think Gordon will end up leading all freshmen in minutes.

But Montavious Murphy could beat him out in the category based entirely on the position he plays. K-State needs someone to take over for Dean Wade at power forward, and I’m not quite sure who that will be at the moment. If Murphy has a strong summer and looks ready to play, he could step into the starting lineup and play a whole lot next season.

His path to playing time is certainly less taxing than Gordon’s. The Wildcats have Cartier Diarra, Shaun Neal-Williams and Mike McGuirl all coming back at guard. And they just signed David Sloan.

There are really only four games to choose from.

1. Big 12 Championship Game in 1998: K-State plays for a national championship with a victory over a Texas A&M team the Wildcats almost certainly beat in a three-game series.

2. Baylor in 2012: The Bears were way better than the Wildcats that night, so maybe they would win a rematch. But K-State was once again in line to play for a national title with a win.

3. Elite Eight in 2018: I still think K-State beats Loyola-Chicago and gets to the Final Four with a healthy Dean Wade.

4. Elite Eight in 2010: Took a late lead over Butler but ran out of gas after needing multiple overtimes to beat Xavier in an epic Sweet 16 clash.

I suppose you could also go way back and try to replay the 1953 championship game against Kentucky or the 1988 Elite Eight against KU.

But I’m going to go completely off the board and choose K-State’s opening basketball game of Big 12 Tournament in 2003.

I mean, who among us hasn’t wondered what that Jim Wooldridge team could have accomplished if Pervis Pasco had remembered to dribble in the closing seconds against Colorado?

You won’t see anything drastically different with Chris Klieman as head coach.

There really isn’t much scheduling work to be done at the moment. The Wildcats’ next open nonconference date isn’t until 2023. Gene Taylor has already lined up games as far out as 2031.

The only thing I am curious about is the possibility of the occassional neutral-site game. Snyder really, really, really, really hated playing nonconference games anywhere other than Manhattan, so participating in any of the kickoff events was off the table. Maybe Klieman is open to playing a game in Houston or Atlanta at some point.

It’s the way they have always done it, CBS pays a ton of money to televise the NCAA Tournament and it’s a great lead-in to the Masters.

Those are the three big reasons.

I would personally love to see basketball become a one semester sport and end in May. Under the current system, basketball games are irrelevant and overshadowed by football until February.

College administrators throw around the idea of changing the basketball schedule every now and then, but it doesn’t seem like it’s much of a priority right now.

No, of course not.

But I will include your question to provide an overall look of K-State baseball after one season under new coach Pete Hughes.

The Bat Cats finished 25-33, which isn’t all that different from the last few seasons under Brad Hill. But they showed some promising signs along the way.

They won games against Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia. They got better as the season went along and they made the Big 12 Tournament for the first time since 2016. Starting slow was a bummer, and it was definitely disappointing to end the year with six straight losses, including all four to KU.

Hughes didn’t beat Oklahoma State all that much when he was at Oklahoma. I suppose that could be a concern.

But I think it was a promising season overall. Freshmen pitchers Jordan Wicks and Griffin Hassall should be fun to watch the next few years.

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