(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.)
No one can seem to agree on what is fair to expect from Kansas State this football season.
The Wildcats are eighth in the preseason Big 12 poll, and Vegas set their over/under win total at 5.5. Does that mean fans should expect another losing season?
Or is this team a shoo-in for a bowl with an overlooked upside? The preseason magazines all predict an improved season, and there is a sense among K-State players and fans that the Wildcats could flirt with 10 victories.
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Opinions are all over the place.
That’s why I’m here, to establish some middle ground.
This much is certain: K-State will be improved if it stays moderately healthy. The Wildcats lost starting quarterback Jesse Ertz and top defensive back Dante Barnett to season-ending injuries in their opening series of the opening game a year ago. K-State coach Bill Snyder compared the experience to “losing two quarterbacks, one on offense and one on defense.” Predictably, the team never recovered, especially when injuries forced several other starters to the sideline.
Ertz and Barnett are back and healthy. They should provide instant and noticeable boosts on both sides of the ball. K-State also returns three talented running backs, an above-average defensive line and veteran linebackers. There is a lot to like about the experience on this roster. Add in newcomer Byron Pringle at receiver, plus D.J. Reed and Cedric Dozier at defensive back, and it’s easy to see why those close to the program are optimistic.
But the offensive line must replace four starters, and Pringle will need help from an unproven supporting cast of receivers. Move to defense, and last year’s numbers aren’t pretty. The Wildcats return plenty of experience, but they allowed 452.2 yards and 31.5 points per game last season. Maybe the oddsmakers know what they’re talking about.
After taking that all in, here’s my prediction: 7-5.
Though K-State will be better than it was a year ago, its schedule is more difficult. The Wildcats open at Stanford, a top-10 team, and play West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State and TCU on the road in the Big 12. The Wildcats traditionally beat the Mountaineers and Cyclones regardless of location, but they may not be favored in either of those games. A win in any of the other four road games would considered an upset.
The good news: All six of K-State’s home games are winnable. Florida Atlantic, Missouri State and Kansas should be counted as wins. Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will be tricky, but here’s guessing the Wildcats win at least two of those.
K-State should take a step forward this season, even if the schedule prevents a leap.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett