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Kansas State Top Five: Offensive Line. Also, Liberty League and Iowa previews

Our staff had a lot of options to pore through, and some really good linemen missed the cut.

No, Ali Marpet was not a Wildcat. But we talk about HIM today, too.
No, Ali Marpet was not a Wildcat. But we talk about HIM today, too.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Lead

Our staff was, to put it lightly, very divided on the issue of K-State's top five offensive linemen of all time. Only one player received top-five recognition from all of our voters, while no fewer than three Wildcat linemen received either first- or second-place votes on one ballot while being completely left off of others.

Seven players were mentioned who did not make the top five. George Maddox, who played prior to World War II and later played for the Packers and even ended up on a Wheaties box, didn't actually receive any votes. Neither did Jeromey Clary, whose hip problems finally forced him to retire last year after an eight-year NFL career solely with the Chargers.

Cody Whitehair and Cornelius Lucas each received a vote apiece. Also drawing support were Kendyl Jacox, who went on to a nine-year NFL career with the Saints and Dolphins; Quentin Neujahr, a starter on the 1993 Copper Bowl squad who bounced around the NFL for seven years; and Michael Bishop-era tackle Ryan Young. We should also note that Damion McIntosh, a 10-year NFL vet, was mentioned when we voted on defensive linemen as someone who'd have been in consideration if he hadn't moved to the offensive line, and somehow went unmentioned when we talked offensive linemen.

Jeez, with those guys not making the top five, the top five itself must be pretty good, huh?

5. Todd Weiner

Weiner was a second-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 selection in 1997 before being drafted in the second round by Seattle. He went on to an 11-year career in the league, moving to Atlanta in 2002. Weiner played in 152 games over those 11 years, starting 116.

4. Barrett Brooks

Brooks played alongside Neujahr back in the early days of relevance. He, like Weiner, was a second-round draft pick, taken by the Eagles. He started every game his first three seasons, but then his effectiveness waned; still, Brooks remained in the league until 2006, and earned a ring as a member of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

3. Ryan Lilja

Lilja, a Shawnee Mission Northwest product, played two years at Coffeyville before transferring to K-State. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2003 before signing with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. The Chiefs waived Lilja, who was immediately picked up by Indianapolis, where all he did was start 59 games over six years, played in two Super Bowls, and got a ring. The Chiefs later reacquired him, and he started another 45 games in Kansas City before retiring.

2. B.J. Finney

We don't need to go into Finney's bio, obviously. This is a case where recency bias probably is not a factor, as Finney's importance can't really be overstated. A four-year starter, three-time team captain, on teams which won 38 games? Yeah, he's deserving.

1. Nick Leckey

There was no doubt on this one, at least with our staff. Leckey was the only player to receive votes from everyone, and most of our first-place nods. Leckey was a starter at guard before moving to center, and started 41 consecutive games for the Wildcats. He was first team All-Big 12 twice, was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy in 2003, and earned first-team All-America nods from ESPN and Sports Illustrated. He was drafted by Arizona, playing there for three years before a two-year stint in St. Louis; he was then signed by the Saints where he played one final season, earning a ring in his final NFL game: Super Bowl XLIV.

Liberty League Preview

2014 Standings and Info
16 Hobart College Statesmen Geneva NY 7-0 12-1
Saint Lawrence University Saints Canton NY 6-1 8-2
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers Troy NY 4-3 6-5
University of Rochester Yellowjackets Rochester NY 3-4 5-4
Springfield College Pride Springfield MA 3-4 5-5
Worcester Polytechnic Institute Engineers Worcester MA 3-4 4-6
Union College Dutchmen Schenectady NY 2-5 2-8
United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners Kings Point NY 0-7 2-8

The bells are tolling for the Liberty League. With the NEWMAC's decision to sponsor football, the conference will be losing three teams in 2017: Merchant Marine, Springfield, and WPI. That will result in the league losing its automatic bid to the playoffs in 2019 unless something is done. As we mentioned in the NEFC preview, that something might be a functional merger of the two conferences, who are both in the same boat.

Hobart has this thing on lockdown. The Statesmen have not had a losing season since 1995, and have made nine playoff appearances this century. Their last regular-season (and conference) loss was back on November 5, 2012 when RPI scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to win 29-28. Hobart brings streaks of four straight conference titles, 22 straight conference wins and 31 straight regular-season wins into the 2015 season.

What they don't bring back is OL Ali Marpet, who this spring became the earliest Division III draft pick in history when Tampa Bay selected him in the second round. The first-team All-American Marpet, the only D-III player invited to the NFL Combine this year, was already impressive coming into the Combine, but he opened a lot of eyes with his performance there. Marpet also shared LL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The Statesmen also lose first-team All-American DR Tyre Coleman, who was named Division III Defensive Player of the Year by both and earned the same honor from the Liberty League. Marpet's linemate, G DeAndre Smith, was a third-team All-American; he's gone too. So are LL all-conference selections QB Patrick Conlan, RB Dominique Ellis, WR Elvin Souffrant, TE Mike Berkowitz, DL Troy Johnson, and DB Fajri Jackson.

That's a lot to lose. RBs Alex Furtado and Conner Hartigan, OL Patrick O'Connell, DB Todd Collier, K Dean Kirshe, and P Parker Thelander return, as do the entire LB corps of Jacob Stanley, Marcus Jemison, and Trayvon Toney. That's a lot to bring back. So don't expect Hobart to fold. After all, they were already good before all those graduating seniors broke into the starting lineup. But they're going to have a challenger in 2015.

Saint Lawrence was miserable through most of the century. The Saints have posted four 0-10 seasons since 1999, including getting blanked in 2012; during that span, a 5-4 finish in 2006 was their sole winning season. Then the Saints went 7-3 in 2013 and proved it was no fluke last year. At Saint Lawrence, Hobart was forced to kick a field goal with 1:03 left to avoid defeat; a miss would have handed Saint Lawrence the conference championship; the Saints' other loss was a 10-7 defeat against Norwich in week two.

It was a mix of talent that brought the Saints forward. QB Mike Leffibine, who shared Offensive Player of the Year honors with Marpet, has graduated along with OL Ryan Schmidt. But that's it. Saint Lawrence returns a ton of starters, including TE Mitch Gallagher, DL Chyron Brown-Wallace, LB Alec Dietsch, DB James Holley-Grisham (also the league's first-team kick returner), Leondre Simmon, and Evan Lapice. More disturbing for everyone else in the league: all but Lapice were first-team selections. Getting past Hobart will be tough, especially since the Saints visit there this year. But Saint Lawrence should be considered co-favorites on paper.

RPI had an up-and-down season which reflects their recent history. Every year since 2009, the Engineers have been within a game of .500. K Andrew Franks, a first-team All-American and the league's Special Teams Player of the Year, has moved on; he signed a deal with the Miami Dolphins after the draft. OL Jay Yaskanich, DL Chris Ohrisman, DB Nick Borkowski, and KR Reggie Colas are also gone. OL Steve Mills and DB Phil Lanieri are the only returning honorees, so RPI is probably not getting out of their rut this year.

Rochester is pretty much just like RPI in terms of recent history, except that generally speaking they've been a .500 team most of the century. Sophomore QB Dan Bronson, last year's LL Rookie of the Year, returns to direct the offense. He'll be joined by RB Myles Allen, WR Farid Adenuga, OL Bruce McKenty, DL Matt Mender, LB Thomas Marone, and DB R.J. Bergolini. The Yellowjackets have no losses of note, so they can be expected to improve. Whether it's enough to actually challenge for the title is another question, but 7-2 is an entirely reasonable expectation, and they could do even better.

Springfield's .500 campaign was their worst since 2008. The Pride have bounced between good and average for two decades. OL Joe Cianciolo, DL Max Ford, and LB Max Nacewicz have been lost to graduation. FB Keith Rodman and DL Kashdan Naraine return. The Pride will hover around .500 again.

WPI returns WR Brandon Eccher, LB Brian Murtaugh, DB Dean Murphy, and P Vinny Taverelli, while losing only DL Nate Martel. That's good news for the Engineers, who had their best season since 2008 last year. The bad news is that there are already three conference games on the schedule they're not going to win, so pushing back to .500 will still be a test.

Union (NY) won the NCAA Division I hockey championship in 2014, but they're not quite as good at football. Still, that 2-8 finish last year was their worst in ages, and the Dutchmen were a winning team as recently as 2012. The losses, however, are grim. RB Darnel Thomas, WR Kyle Reynolds, and DLs Casey Muse and Julian Gendels are all gone. OL Sean Carey, LB Jake LaRovera (all-name team guy there), and K David Pope will be back. Don't expect much improvement.

Merchant Marine was awful last year, and haven't had a winning season since joining the Liberty league in 2004. They only lose OL Jacob Margrey, but QB Matt McDaniels and DB Patrick Keyes are the only returning Mariners. Our nation's protectors of the shipping lanes are going to suffer a long autumn.

Game of the year: Oh, it's got to be November 7 when Saint Lawrence visits Hobart, doesn't it? Or the following week, when Hobart visits Rochester? We'll know which game is more important on October 3, when Rochester visits Saint Lawrence, and maybe that should be the game of the year simply for that reason.

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
6 Wartburg College Knights Waverly IA 7-0 12-1
Central College Dutch Pella IA 6-1 8-2
Buena Vista University Beavers Storm Lake IA 4-3 5-5
Coe College Kohawks Cedar Rapids IA 4-3 5-5
University of Dubuque Spartans Dubuque IA 3-4 4-6
Luther College Norse Decorah IA 2-5 5-5
Loras College Duhawks Dubuque IA 2-5 3-7
Simpson College Storm Indianola IA 0-7 3-7

The IIAC will return to nine teams in 2016 with the addition of Nebraska Wesleyan, a dual NCAA/NAIA school which is finally joining the NCAA full-time. Generally a good conference, the Iowans took it on the chin in non-conference play last year and as a result only two teams had winning records. (Oddly, the league's last-place team was 3-0 out of conference. Go figure.)

Wartburg swept the IIAC's awards, as coach Rick Willis was Coach of the Year, DB Spencer Capitani the Defensive Player of the Year, and QB Logan Schrader, a third-team All-American, was Offensive Player of the Year. Capitani has graduated, along with WR Taylor Jacobsmeier, OLs Chris Brinkmeier, Casey Krull, and Bjorn Nelson, DLs Miguel Lozan and Zack Twedt, DBs Drew Kool and Skylar Dierikx, and KR Donald Miller.

Schrader returns, however, and that will be huge for a team which actually led Wisconsin-Whitewater 33-16 heading into the fourth quarter of their national quarterfinal loss. Schrader threw for 358 yards on Whitewater's defense that game. RB Brandon Domeyer ran for 111, and he'll be back this fall as well. So will WR Robbie Anstoetter, OL Chase Wilhelms, DL Cole Hinders, LBs Will Janssen and Gunner Tranel, DB Logan Pitz, and P Grant Zimmerman. The Knights, who have only failed to win eight games three times this century, will remain the team to beat in Iowa.

Central (IA) has been less consistently great than Wartburg in the 2000s, but the Dutch have still posted five 10-win seasons since 1999 and haven't had a losing year in eons. The Dutch will say goodbye to honorable mention All-American S Jacob Edleman, along with RB Josh Osborn, OL Josh Collins, DLs Brody Janssen and Nick Henry, DBs Eric Larson and Jacob Tune, and K Kevin Sheldon. Second-team LB Drew Carlson is the only Dutch honoree returning, however, and that spells trouble. Central has always weathered the storm of graduation, and will still be in the top half of the conference. But there's little hope of challenging Wartburg for the top spot.

Buena Vista broke a string of five straight losing seasons last year, but did nothing to separate themselves from the middle of the IIAC pack. On November 1, the Beavers were tied for first place in the league at 4-0, but lost to Wartburg, Central, and Coe in succession to end the season. Beaver fans will be looking back at November 1 all year, because those memories are all they'll have. QB Bobby Brown, who shared first-team honors with Schrader, is gone. So are RB Dylan Barrett and WRs Gunner Gilland and Adam Cave. Just like that, the offense vanishes in a puff of smoke. OL Travis Munn and P Tyler Stolen return. Buena Vista is also going to return -- to a losing record.

Coe was absolutely maddening in 2014. Their longest streak of the year -- winning or losing -- was one. That would be weird enough, but except for an eight-point season-opening loss to Wheaton and a 29-27 loss to Dubuque, every single one of those games was won or lost by at least 16 points. It was only the fourth time since 2002 that Coe failed to win at least seven games. DT Matt Schmitz, a second-team All-American, and LB Mitch Berendes have graduated. The only other Kohawk to receive All-IIAC honors was Dylan Stepleton, who'll return for his junior year. Normally, that would be a bad sign, but Coe managed a winning conference record with only three all-conference selections; that's a testament to coaching, and you can expect Steve Staker to reload.

Dubuque started the 21st century as "awful", winning only eight games between 1999-2005. They've since been average, outside of a 9-2 season in 2011. WR Tyler Rutenbeck and OL Chris Bagley are gone, but Stan Zwiefel will have some ingredients to make a run in 2015. WR Chris Bagley, DL Zack Marotta, LBs Blaine Snitker and Trevor Stauner, DB Oscar White, and K Curtis Prull all return. With all the teams above them save Wartburg being decimated by graduation, it's a prime moment for the Spartans to return to contention.

Luther also went 5-5 every season from 2007-2010. In between that string and last year's .500 finish, the Norse stumbled: 3-7, 0-10, 2-8. So call last year a complete return to normalcy. Luther may be in line for another regression, however. QB J.J. Sirlos and RB Josh Vos have graduated. OL James Ostlie and LB Aric Elton return, but that doesn't balance out the loss of the key offensive cogs.

Loras has only posted two winning campaigns this century. The Duhawks had two all-conference selections; both DL Will Tumberger and WR Nate Even are gone. It'll be a dreary winter for Loras, especially with their cross-town rivals in Dubuque on the rise.

Simpson (IA) was flying high after knocking off Illinois Wesleyan on September 20 to move to 3-0. Then the Storm lost a close one at Buena Vista, 38-31. It was a disappointment, but it wasn't a terrible defeat. Pretty much every game after that was, however. This state of affairs was especially crushing because Simpson had improved for three straight seasons, going from 2-8 to 5, 6, then 7 wins. Last year was expected to be good, and the hot start confirmed that expectation. DL Alex Seven and LB Brandon Abernathy depart, while OLs Blake Bergstrom and Corey Meyer return. Simpson should bounce back a bit, but there won't be any exceptional expectations this fall.

Game of the year: While Central's visit to Wartburg on October 3 will match last year's top two squads and Central is never out of contention, you should probably circle October 17 instead. That's when Wartburg visits Dubuque, and those appear to be the top contenders on paper.


K-State's top 5 tight ends, and previews of the Hearland Collegiate Athletic Conference and Empire 8.