▪ 2014 record: 9-4, 7-2 Big 12
▪ Projected 2015 record: 8-4, 5-4 Big 12
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star's Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
▪ Key starters lost: QB Jake Waters, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Curry Sexton, OL B.J. Finney, DE Ryan Mueller, LB Jonathan Truman, DB Randall Evans.
▪ Key starters returning: OL Cody Whitehair, DB Dante Barnett, DB Morgan Burns, DB Danzel McDaniel, RB Charles Jones, DT Travis Britz.
▪ Leading the charge: Bill Snyder knows a thing or two about rebuilding projects, so he is ready for the challenge that comes with replacing Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton and the most prolific passing offense in school history. K-State will look different this season. The biggest changes will be on offense. A year ago, the Wildcats threw for a program-record 3,736 yards. With a new quarterback — likely sophomore Jesse Ertz, though K-State has not released a public depth chart — and an unproven group of receivers, odds are good K-State will shift to a run-oriented attack. Ertz is a dual-threat quarterback, and Joe Hubener, Jonathan Banks and Alex Delton can all lead the Wildcats’ offense. Charles Jones, the team’s leading rusher last season, returns and so do four starters from the offensive line, including left tackle Cody Whitehair. Expect K-State to take few risks and control the clock when it has the ball. That will give its defense a better chance to shine. With proven run-blockers Travis Britz and Will Geary returning up front, along with defensive backs Dante Barnett, Morgan Burns and Danzel McDaniel, the Wildcats could have one of the top defenses in the Big 12.
▪ Potential roadblocks: K-State didn’t run effectively last season. Jones averaged 41.5 yards and the Wildcats often failed to convert on third-and-short, at least on the ground. The offensive line needs to be much tougher. Can the addition of a healthy, mobile quarterback change things for the better? Will young running backs Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon add pop to the ground game? They will likely need the support of a solid passing game to keep defenses guessing. Ertz, along with receivers Dante Barnett, Dominique Heath and Kody Cook, need to rise the occasion. If they don’t, defenses can load the box and expect the run. On defense, linebacker is a question. Will Davis is dependable, but not special. Elijah Lee showed promise as a freshman. Is he ready for more?
▪ End result: K-State’s season could easily be divided into three segments. The opening three games against South Dakota, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are the warm-up. Big 12 play begins with five difficult games — at Oklahoma State, TCU, Oklahoma, at Texas, Baylor — that could rank among the toughest stretches anywhere. Let’s call that the uphill climb. If K-State is bowl eligible after eight games, Snyder deserves a raise. Then it is on to the home stretch with games against Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia. K-State might be favored to win the first three, be an underdog in the middle five and go back to favorite for the final four. If the Wildcats take care of business early and late, their season will be defined in October.
Blair Kerkhoff’s projection
at Texas-San Antonio
at Oklahoma State
at Texas Tech