Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: Kansas State suffered a loss in the 2013 season opener, falling to visiting North Dakota State in a 24-21 final. Many thought that was an embarrassing setback, but when you consider the Bison were the two-time defending FCS national champions, and would go on to record the three-peat, it wasn't all that surprising.
Not one to let his team fall apart at the seams, legendary head coach Bill Snyder rallied the troops and they responded by winning the next two games rather easily -- albeit against underwhelming foes in Louisiana (48-27) and Massachusetts (37-7).
A 31-21 loss at Texas in the Big 12 opener was the first of three straight defeats (Oklahoma State and Baylor being the others), but again Snyder proved to be a calming force and he got his guys to believe in each other enough to win six of their final seven games, the finale being a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
OFFENSE: There are more than a few questions surrounding this year's Kansas State football team, but who is going to lead the way under center isn't one of them. Senior Jake Waters is expected to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big 12 this season after throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and twice as many touchdowns (18) as interceptions (9) in 2013.
Fellow senior Tyler Lockett has developed into one of the top receivers in not only the Big 12, but the nation as well. Lockett (81 receptions, 1,262 yards, 11 touchdowns) is the top target, but Waters has other viable options in Curry Sexton, Deante Burton and former quarterback Daniel Sams.
Senior center B.J. Finney and junior tackle Cody Whitehair highlight an offensive line that should be a strong point. Finding a replacement for former star running back John Hubert won't be easy, and Sams is the team's top returning rusher (807 yards, 11 touchdowns). The most likely scenario will have senior DeMarcus Harrison logging most of the carries, although others will certainly hear their number called as well.
Waters is the key to K-State achieving its offensive goals this season, and Snyder is impressed by the work turned in by his senior signal caller.
"Jake is one of those young guys that has a tremendous value system. He's a young guy that understands what our program is truly all about. He's a young guy that works diligently to improve his plight in life and on the football field on a daily basis."
Snyder continued, "His level of confidence I think has grown immensely. I think that experience from last year has benefited him greatly, as it should, with any young guy. And he's embraced it."
DEFENSE: The Wildcats played well on defense last season, permitting 22.9 points and 358.8 yards per game, both of which ranked them third in the conference and in the top-31 nationally. Fewer than half of the starters return, but the ones who have are very good.
Ryan Mueller was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year after matching the school record for sacks in a season with 11.5, and even greater production could be in the cards for the senior this time around as he continues to refine his game. Junior Travis Britz will do his best to clog the middle of the line, while senior linebacker Jonathan Truman (top returning tackler, 89 stops) and senior corner Randall Evans provide leadership from their respective spots on the field.
The 'Cats will also have to find a replacement for former defensive stalwart Ty Zimmerman, but junior safety Dante Barnett is hoping to elevate his game after coming up with four interceptions last season.
SPECIALS TEAMS: Lockett is a feared return man, and opposing teams will need to decide whether they actually want him to handle the ball. As for the kicking game, junior Jack Cantele is back after converting nearly 85 percent of his field goal attempts in 2013 (11-of-13).
OUTLOOK: K-State opens the 2014 campaign against another FCS foe in Stephen F. Austin, a game you can be sure the Wildcats aren't going to take lightly.
The league lidlifter is next, as a trip to Iowa State precedes a visit from SEC power Auburn. UTEP is the Wildcats' final non-conference game of the regular season, and Snyder will need to have his team in peak form when its run of Big 12 bouts continues against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia, Kansas and Baylor in succession.
The Wildcats appear to be solid across the board, but whether they have what it takes to win the conference crown remains to be seen. Snyder likes the effort his team has put in since the bowl win over Michigan, but is cautiously optimistic as he looks ahead to the start of the season.
"I know what we have capabilities of being and whether or not we can reach that level or not is dependent upon a lot of things, and the biggest thing is not taking anything for granted."