It's been written ad naseum this offseason how much talent the K-State football team lost from its Big 12-winning 2012 squad. Gone are players like Collin Klein, Arthur Brown, Chris Harper and Meshak Williams. Many experts claim this loss of talent will be too much for K-State to overcome in the always-competitive Big 12, picking the Wildcats to finish in the middle of the pack in the league.
However, each year, new players in coach Bill Snyder's system work their way out from behind the curtain and take center stage to aid in a run at a conference crown - as the past two seasons have shown where K-State finished first and second after being picked sixth and eighth, respectively.
In 2012, it was guys like Javonta Boyd, Justin Tuggle and Travis Tannahill. A season before that, it was Klein, Tyler Lockett and Ty Zimmerman.
So who are the most likely candidates to step up and contribute in big ways in 2013 after relative obscurity last season? We'll assume that whoever wins the quarterback job — whether its Daniel Sams or Jake Waters — would be at the top of this list. Here's a look at five others who - at least on paper - fit the bill.
Blake Slaughter, Linebacker — Blake Slaughter is one of the few players remaining from the Ron Prince era thanks to his decision to redshirt in 2012 while Arthur Brown locked down the middle linebacker spot on his way to becoming an NFL draft pick. Slaughter's veteran status and K-State's uncertainty at the linebacker spot this season means the 5-foot-10, 227-pound senior must have a breakout final season if K-State is to compete to defend its Big 12 title.
Slaughter will need to show much more than he did in 2011 when he registered just two tackles the entire season. He'll need to produce more like his 2010 season - and then some - when he made 47 tackles, including two sacks, and even started four games.
Chaquil Reed, Defensive Lineman — A year ago, a Butler County Community College defensive lineman was critical in K-State's run to the Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl appearance. In 2012, Javonta Boyd had 22 tackles, including two sacks as well as a forced fumble and a blocked kick after a quiet 2011 season. With Boyd graduated, the 2013 Wildcats need a fellow Butler defensive line transfer, the 6-foot-3, 309-pound Chaquil Reed, to make the same type of impact that Boyd did a year ago.
After much excitement following his signing with K-State, Reed registered just one tackle in four games in 2012. The emergence of Boyd - along with John Sua - in 2012 was a major reason for the Wildcats' success defensively, and K-State will need that same level of improvement from Reed in 2013.
Torell Miller, Wide Receiver — There's not much to dislike about K-State's offensive potential in 2013, including K-State's talent at wide receiver with Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett. However, what K-State lacks heading into the season is a tall, big-bodied wide receiver to fill the role Chris Harper played the past two seasons. Enter senior Torell Miller.
So far in his career, Miller has been known more for his run blocking - and drops - than his pass catching, as the 6-2, 216-pounder has just eight catches for 94 yards and a TD to his credit. The converted defensive back must get better at catching the ball in 2013 to provide the K-State offense a big target over the middle and on third downs.
Marquel Bryant, Defensive End — A season ago, the K-State defensive end duo of Adam Davis and Meshak Williams combined for a Big 12-best 17 sacks. With both players having graduated, one of the players who must help fill the void in production will be sophomore Marquel Bryant.
The rangy 6-foot-3, 241-pound Bryant made three tackles in five games as a redshirt-freshman a season ago, and under the tutelage of new defensive ends coach, Blake Seiler, Bryant's production must increase as K-State looks to defend Big 12 offenses trying to break in a plethora of new quarterbacks.
Dante Barnett, Defensive Back — Barnett had one of the most unenviable tasks of any Wildcat player in 2012 ... making his first start, as a freshman, in place of the injured veteran Ty Zimmerman, on the road, against the hyper-athletic Baylor Bears' offense. Barnett was picked on time and time again during Baylor's upset victory over the then-No. 1 Wildcats, but the experience could end up making Barnett a big-time contributor for the 2013 K-State squad.
The 6-foot-1, 186-pound Barnett followed his less-than-stellar performance against Baylor with another start the following week against Texas, and performed much better. In all, in 2012, Barnett recorded 24 tackles and two pass breakups. How this young safety builds off the experience he gained the last two regular season games of 2012 could make or break the K-State defense this season.