Campus Corner

Ask Kellis: Why are preseason expectations so low for the Wildcats?

Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Joe Hubener (left).
Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Joe Hubener (left). skeyser@kcstar.com

College football experts continue to make one thing clear when it comes to Kansas State: They don’t expect much from the Wildcats this season.

USA Today released its preseason Top 25 poll on Thursday, and K-State was nowhere to be found. Four Big 12 teams cracked the top 25, led by No. 3 Oklahoma, and a fifth (Texas) was unofficially ranked 32nd in the others-receiving-votes category.

But there was no mention of K-State.

I suppose that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This was just the latest example of the low external expectations K-State will face this season.

The Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll, exactly where they finished a year ago at 6-7. And the oddsmakers at Bovada set their over/under victory total for the Cats at 5.5, meaning they can’t decide whether K-State will finish the regular season with a losing record or at .500. It’s up to bettors to decide.

Based on social-media feedback, it seems most K-State fans think betting the over is easy money. Everything that could go wrong went wrong last season, they say, and the team still won six games.

It does feel like a good wager, as I pegged K-State’s over/under at 6.5 and can envision an 8-4 finish if things go right. But Vegas has a funny way of putting out odds that seem too good to be true and end up being right on the money. So this over/under should give you some pause.

On paper, K-State appears to be an improved team. It returns nine players with starting experience on defense, including four preseason All-Big 12 selections. On offense, it should be better at quarterback and receiver (barring injuries), though unproven on the offensive line. Special teams should remain solid, if not as great as they were in past years with Morgan Burns and Tyler Lockett returning kicks.

This team should be better than it was a year ago.

The way K-State players talk about last season, you get the idea they considered it an embarrassment and expect to make a big jump this season.

So why don’t the experts agree?

I imagine the biggest reason is the schedule. It’s harder than last year. K-State opens at Stanford (ranked seventh by USA Today) and plays five conference road games. Florida Atlantic, Missouri State and Kansas are the only slam-dunk wins. But there are also question marks on offense. How good is Jesse Ertz? Can he stay healthy? Will the offensive line reload or have to rebuild? Here’s guessing some experts want to see success from K-State before they believe it.

Whatever the case, Bill Snyder may end up writing thank-you notes to preseason voters when the year is over. The Wildcats tend to play their best as underdogs.

Now, let’s move on to your questions. Thanks, as always, for asking them.

That seems incredibly unlikely. Dozier joined K-State as a graduate transfer from California to help the Wildcats on defense. I expect him to win the starting cornerback job opposite Duke Shelley, but if that doesn’t happen here’s guessing he will stay at corner as a backup (K-State needed lots of bodies at that position last year) or take a stab at the nickel back.

I don’t see where he would fit in at receiver. Byron Pringle, Dominique Heath, Deante Burton, Zach Reuter, Denzel Goolsby, Isaiah Zuber and Corey Sutton are good to go in the passing game. Not sure what Dozier would add there.

Disagree.

Do I think K-State will have a good defense? Yes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and expect it to be best in the Big 12.

Oklahoma’s defense will be tough to top, and so will TCU’s after all the experience its young players gained last year stepping up after injuries.

The Sooners ranked 31st in total defense last season, allowing 351 yards per game. The Wildcats ranked 101st, allowing 443 yards per game. That’s a lot of ground to make up, even with experience returning.

K-State’s defense has potential to be above average in the Big 12, especially if it stays healthy. The Wildcats have playmakers up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. But most of them were on the field last year when Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech put up 50-plus. It’s a big leap from there to dominance.

Word out of spring practice had Byron Pringle directing K-State’s wildcat formation, at one point throwing a touchdown pass to Joe Hubener. So I expect him to get some action there this season.

But moving your best receiver to quarterback and your best quarterback to receiver does seem a bit counterproductive to the passing game.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Hubener gets snaps out of a special formation this season. He is a big, strong runner, and he played a lot last season. He would work well in short-yardage situations and also be able to throw over the top of defenses when necessary.

One thing I learned while in New York for Bill Snyder’s induction to the College Football Hall of Fame last winter was that Snyder loves Frank Sinatra. He specifically asked for a Rat Pack tribute band to play at his induction party.

So I will say Sinatra.

Or, more likely, no music at all.

Defensive back should be quite a bit better.

If Duke Shelley, Cedric Dozier, Kendall Adams and Dante Barnett stay healthy, K-State’s secondary will be worlds better than it was last year when it felt like coaches were pulling fans out of the stands to cover opposing receivers in certain games.

Barnett’s return, alone, will give the back end of K-State’s defense a boost.

Interceptions: Dante Barnett.

Tackles: Elijah Lee.

Sacks: Jordan Willis.

In a word: solid.

It’s hard to imagine K-State’s offensive line not taking a step back this season, what with the departure of four starters (including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair). But it’s also hard to see this unit struggle all that much.

Under position coach Charlie Dickey, K-State’s offensive line has done a good job reloading more than rebuilding. And it often seems like the Wildcats exceed expectations up front when they do reload. Meeting expectations with an experienced group is often the harder challenge.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think K-State’s offensive line will be fine this year. Terrale Johnson has experience at guard and Dalton Risner is an up-and-coming center. Many other linemen seem ready to play. The group will have some growing pains, sure, but it should be solid all the same.

Lots of athleticism.

Outside of Cartier Diarra, the team is healthy, and new addition Xavier Sneed can really get up. So, expect some dunks and highlight plays. It’s an open practice designed to entertain fans, after all.

Personally, I want to see Isaiah Maurice and Dante Williams. Both bigs sat out last season and we still don’t really know what either one is capable of. I keep hearing good things about both, so it will be interesting to see how they play in front of a live audience.

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett

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