By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 3:29 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Kansas State preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#27 Kansas State
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 159-83-1 (20 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Dimel, Del Miller | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Hayes
Collin Klein is about to discover what life is like at the top of the college football world. After rushing for more than 1,000 yards and throwing for nearly 2,000 as a junior, he established himself as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. This season, he is expected to be a Heisman contender. How serious a push he makes will depend on two things — one, how many games K-State wins, and two, how much he developed as a passer in the offseason. He completed 161-of-281 passes during his first full year as a starter and made some impressive downfield throws. But he wasn’t as consistent as the top passers across the league.
He should have a solid group of receivers helping him out. Chris Harper led the unit with 40 catches for 547 yards last season. He will be joined by Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett, who earned Freshman All-America honors despite suffering a season-ending injury in early November. John Hubert returns at running back after rushing for 970 yards last season.
While every other unit returns more or less intact, the Wildcats need to replace three starters up front. B.J. Finney will lead the rebuilding effort at center. The sophomore excelled in his first year on the job and is expected to take on more responsibility this season.
Behind linebacker Arthur Brown, K-State was a much-improved defensive team in 2011. But it will need stronger play from its secondary to be an even better unit this fall.
While going up against some of the nation’s top offenses on a weekly basis in the Big 12, K-State allowed 263.4 passing yards per game. Improving on those numbers could be difficult considering that Tysyn Hartman and David Garrett are gone. But K-State does return a handful of its top playmakers at defensive back. Nigel Malone had an impressive seven interceptions last year. Ty Zimmerman also returns to start for the third straight season at safety.
K-State will miss Ray Kibble and Jordan Voelker on its defensive line but still returns a solid group. Vai Lutui should control the middle as a senior at defensive tackle, and Adam Davis and Meshak Williams are talented defensive ends.
The linebacking corps figures to be the strength of the defense again. Brown is one of the nation’s top backers, and he led the Wildcats with 101 tackles as a junior. His speed made it difficult for opposing teams to throw or run up the middle. He should be even better as a senior.
K-State enters the 2012 season confident in its kicking game. Anthony Cantele returns at kicker, and Ryan Doerr comes back at punter. Doerr averaged 40.5 yards per punt, and Cantele connected on 17-of-23 field goals. The Wildcats are also pleased with their return specialists. Lockett was terrific as a kickoff returner, averaging 35.2 yards with two touchdowns.
Improving on a 10-win season that ended with a trip to the Cotton Bowl won’t be easy — but don’t bet against Kansas State, which makes a habit of defying the odds.
The Wildcats should be improved on offense, provided Klein has improved as a passer and the offensive line comes together. The secondary is the big concern on defense. Malone is solid at one cornerback spot, but the Cats ranked 103rd in the nation in pass defense. That has to improve if K-State wants to be a serious threat in the Big 12.