At 78, Snyder is ready to open his 26th season at K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- No. 20 Kansas State opens the season Saturday night with questions surrounding the program.

Coach Bill Snyder enters his 26th season at the helm, but unlike when he first arrived in 1989, the questions during this offseason were mostly focused on how long he'll continue to coach.

The 78-year-old Snyder endured treatment for throat cancer this offseason amid speculation that he might retire. But he is back on the sideline for the ninth straight season since coming out of retirement in 2009.

He says he's ready to go when his Wildcats host Central Arkansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Bears are ranked 15th in the FCS, coming off a season in which they advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs.

"Age is what it is," Snyder said during the Big 12 coaches conference call. "But I am doing quite well. Our approach to the season doesn't seem to be any different than it has been. My focus is on the program, our players and coaches, and our preparation."

Central Arkansas coach Steve Campbell knows facing a team like Kansas State will be tough, but he's looking forward to the opportunity.

"We're anxiously awaiting this first game," he said. "We're looking forward to playing an outstanding football team.

"Kansas State is a very well-coached football team, as all Bill Snyder-coached teams are. They are outstanding on defense with great team speed. Their quarterback is back. He's a dual-threat quarterback who can run and throw the football. He's definitely a weapon for them."

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Snyder's squad is loaded, with 18 starters returning, including quarterback Jesse Ertz. Last season, Ertz started all 13 games, as he was one of just four players in the FBS to throw for 1,500 yards and rush for 1,000.

Being a second-year starter has been big for quarterbacks under Snyder. The last six times he returned his leading passer from the previous season, the Wildcats won at least nine games -- including 11 victories in 1998 with Michael Bishop, in 2000 with Jonathan Beasley, in 2002 and 2003 with Ell Roberson, and in 2012 with Collin Klein. In 2014, the Wildcats won nine games with Jake Waters.

"Our offense has a lot to it," Ertz said."We have the quarterback run game, run game, pistol, shotgun, option. There are just so many things to learn. To be good at all those things and to operate quickly and efficiently, experience is huge. To come back and know what you are seeing and facing in game situations, you can't put a value on that."

The Wildcats return 44 letterwinners from last year's squad that went 9-4. Eight of the returning starters picked up All-Big 12 accolades in 2016, including Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year (defensive back D.J. Reed) and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year (defensive end Reggie Walker).

The defense has six starters returning, which includes three on the line and three in the secondary. The Wildcats must break in a new set of starting linebackers, but players with experience are back and vying for the top spots.

Five players who made at least five starts along the offensive line are back, including a pair of 13-game starters at tackle in Dalton Risner and Scott Frantz.

Central Arkansas returns 18 starters from a squad that went 10-3, including an 8-1 mark in Southland Conference play. The Bears bring back their entire offensive line, a senior starting quarterback in Hayden Hildebrand and their top running back in Carlos Blackman.

"We've got a quarterback back who has started over 20 games," Campbell said."Hayden is going into his third year as a starting quarterback. He threw for 3,000 yards last year. He's an athletic guy who can do some things with his feet. Along with Hayden, we have four of our offensive linemen back, so that gives us a little bit of stability."

K-State has an 82-34-5 (.698) record all-time in season openers, including a 22-3 mark under Snyder. Since 1990, K-State holds a 144-35-1 (.803) record at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, including a 70-5 (.933) mark in non-conference games.