On the field, the last two months or so have been brutal. The team has vacillated between “rip your heart out” close losses and “at least I get to start my yard work early” blowouts. Off the field, things haven’t gone well either. 11 Wildcats have entered the portal since the beginning of the season, and normally, that would be a bad thing. In this case, however, it could be a blessing in disguise, depending on how the coach staff plays their cards. Get it right, and this could be the injection of talent that snaps K-State out of their 2020 doldrums. Get it wrong, and not to be overly dramatic but....2020 could be the beginning of the end for the Klieman era in Manhattan.
Needless to say, this offseason is crucial.
Even with the announcement on Monday that former starters Wykeen Gill and Lance Robinson decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere, I’m not concerned about this round of transfers, with the caveat that the coaching staff uses this as an opportunity to upgrade upperclassmen talent. The only transfer, in my humble opinion, that hurts is Josh Youngblood. He has a unique skill that will be difficult to replace and the physical attributes to be an elite wide receiver at some point in his career. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any program, but especially one in desperate need of dynamic skill players like Kansas State.
Other than Youngblood, the Wildcats haven’t lost anyone that can’t be replaced, if not upgraded, in the transfer portal. I’m not saying I’m glad these guys transferred, but they think they can find better opportunities somewhere else and I think Kansas State can find better fits for the program somewhere else as well. I also think that several of the players transferring won’t find the grass any greener on the other side of the fence. Some, in fact, may have trouble finding another pasture to graze in next year, at least on the Power 5 level. I wish them nothing but the best, but I won’t feel sorry for them if things don’t go the way they anticipate. I’m all for betting on yourself, but the thing about betting, is more often than not, you lose. If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ve got to be willing to take the loss.
One thing that was painfully clear in the second half of the season is the Wildcats are in desperate need of veteran playmakers on both sides of the ball. Now, with all the defections, they are in the perfect position to find some. The coaching staff can’t fall into the trap of falling in love with the potential of their younger players. Potential is great, but playing guys before they are ready isn’t good for the team. This team needs real talent in 2021, not potential talent that won’t be fully ready until 2022 or 2023.
I’ve talked about the hole in the upcoming senior and rising junior class created by transfers and questionable recruiting at the end of the Snyder era, and this is a chance for the coaching staff to fill those holes and give their developmental players a chance to develop. The transfer market is ripe for the picking, and K-State has the playing time that high end bounce back players crave. The transfer portal has sucked 11 players off the Kansas State roster, but if it can send the right 4-5 players back the Wildcat's way, 2021 will look much different. If the coaching staff decides to stand pat with the current roster, they may not be around long enough to see their developmental players develop. Once you lose momentum, it’s hard to regain it both on the field and in recruiting.
2021 is a crucial year for the future of the program.
Positions to Upgrade
This all hinges on Skylar Thompson. If he comes back, the quarterback position is fine. If he doesn’t, the coaching staff should seriously consider bringing in an experienced graduate transfer. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Will Howard, or have reservations about Jake Rubley, as a matter of fact, I like them both. It means that I don’t think either of them are ready yet.
Howard was forced into duty as a true freshman and the results, as we all saw, were mixed. Bringing in a graduate transfer quarterback to play in 2021 (again, assuming Skylar leaves) gives Howard a chance to step back, evaluate his play in 2020, perfect his craft in practice, and then go head to head with Rubley in 2022 for the starting job as a Sophomore with game experience. Howard came into K-State behind Skylar, knowing he was going to have to sit a year anyway.
The defections of Gill and Youngblood leave a hole at the slot position, but in terms of the transfer portal, talented wide receivers are a dime a dozen. The coaching staff would be derelict in their duties if they didn’t strongly consider bringing in talent from outside of the program. Bringing in the right slot receiver could turn a problem position from 2020 into a position of strength in 2021 if Malik Knowles returns (and returns to form) and Chabastian Taylor continues to improve.
Briley Moore was a revelation at tight end this season. There is a chance he comes back, and if he does, tight end is not longer a concern, but if he leaves, I think bringing in another experienced pass catching option at tight end is worth serious consideration.
Offensive line transfers are always dicey because the position requires unique continuity that often times doesn’t lend its self to plug and play transfers. At the same time, I’m not sure there is a left tackle I trust on the current roster. I like Kaitori Leveston, but not as a left tackle. A move to right tackle, or inside to guard may unlock his potential. He needs to be far away from speed rushers coming off the edges.
Much like wide receiver, if the coaching staff doesn’t bring immediate help in at defensive tackle, they have no one to blame but themselves. The need is glaring and there are options available. Even with returning players and guys on the roster they envision growing into defensive tackles eventually, one, if not two, transfer defensive tackles would make a world of difference on the defensive line.
Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes could always come back, but I’m not holding my breath. I think Daniel Green is a legit talent, but bringing in a rangy outside linebacker with speed would be a welcome addition to the defense.
This is the third position the coaching staff must fix this offseason. I see a way forward at quarterback, tight end, left tackle, and linebacker, but I see no quick fixes at wide receiver, defensive tackle and safety unless Jahron McPherson decides to run it back, and even then, adding another instant impact safety is probably warranted. There should be plenty available.