In 2021, Kansas State football went 8-5, finished in the middle of the Big 12 standings, and won the Texas Bowl against LSU. How optimistic are you that the 2022 Wildcats improve on that?
AMS 84: I would be a little bit disappointed if we have fewer than nine wins at the end of bowl season. I think our overall roster is improved from last year, and the opportunities are there, so I want better results.
Eric Rubottom: I’m bullish on 8-5 or better this year. Oklahoma State lost a bunch from last year – including some coaching – and I will forever be skeptical of Texas, even if they are actually winning the games they are “supposed to”. The Sooners will be good, but the coaching regime change will be an X-factor for them. I think we’ve got a two-year window that we could really make some noise here. I would have a hard time being convinced that we’re not better than every other team in the league.
wildcat00: I’m cautiously optimistic. I think the floor for this team is 7-5 and the ceiling could well be 10 wins. Of course, some of my optimism is the result of a bowl win featuring a senior QB who wanted to go out on a high note, and an interim OC auditioning for the full-time gig, so it’s not a particularly useful data point. Still, the pieces for a run at a Big 12 title definitely exist.
Luke Thompson: About as optimistic as my history of rooting for mostly losers will allow me to be. On paper, this team looks like it has more talent and experience than last year, plus the rest of the Big 12 appears to be a little down. I’m not convinced Adrian Martinez will be as good as a 100 percent healthy Skylar Thompson, but we didn’t see a whole lot of him last season, unfortunately. The only thing not working in K-State’s favor is they have to play five conference road games instead of three (I count Lawrence as a home game) and of course, the risk of injuries derailing things quickly is very real if they happen at the wrong positions. Overall, though, it really seems like this group should be able to win eight or nine regular season games.
JT VanGilder: Extremely optimistic. Of course, a lot of things need to go right, but it doesn’t feel like we’re one or two injuries away from a 6-6/7-5 kind of season, and that’s pretty huge. This team feels about as close to doing great things as we’ve seen in the better part of a decade, and it’s exciting.
Jon Morse: I think improvement on that record is a lock. All but two units return all or almost all their starters; meanwhile, several teams in the Big 12 look worse than they did last year.
Which player or position group are you most interested to see in action early in the season, and why?
Eric: Early season – QB and DB, specifically at free safety and nickel. We know what we’ve got everywhere else. Generally, I’d like to see the whole 2-deep play defense, in case [knocks on wood] we get bit by the injury bug. We’ve got some studs – who’s behind them?
wildcat00: I’m absolutely not alone in this, but I’m really curious (and cautiously excited) about the QB situation. Klein seems very high on his QB room right now with Adrian Martinez as the starter and maybe Jake Rubley playing behind him.
AMS 84: I’m with 00. I want to see if Martinez can be that impact player at quarterback, and if he can, then this could be a special season for K-State. Plus, the schadenfreude of Martinez excelling while Nebraska possibly struggles through another bad season would be delicious.
JT: I’m really interested to see how the wide receiver group performs early on. They’ve got talent there, but how will the change in position coach and offensive philosophy help that group. Tight end is probably second for me, because it would be great if one or two of those guys could actually stay healthy a whole season.
Jon: It’s probably no surprise that I’m most interested in seeing how the rebuild at safety works out. That’s the position I watch most closely in general anyway, and this year’s unit is obviously a completely unknown factor.
Luke: I feel like my answer to this question almost every year would be the wide receivers. Partly because it’s the most interesting spot on the football field to me, and partly because it seems like almost every year K-State coaches hype up how great their group is and then it leads to disappointment, at least since Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton left. We’re all hoping this will finally be the year Malik breaks out as a consistent No. 1 threat, and I like the experience and potential of Phillip Brooks and Kade Warner. Plus, maybe we get to see Sterling Lockett play by the end of the season?
After five years as quarterbacks coach, including one year as co-offensive coordinator, Collin Klein is now the solo offensive coordinator. What do you expect or hope for from his play-calling?
Jon: If nothing else, I think in comparison with his predecessor Klein will be both less predictable and less willing to just keep hammering at a dumb idea because it was his dumb idea. The play calling at the Texas Bowl was inspired and, well, fun. I expect that to continue.
Eric: I would hope that it’s not reading off of a 6-drive script? Messingham’s play calling was so damned repeatable and predictable that any one of us could have taken over for him and achieved the same results.
Luke: Something a little more unpredictable would be nice. I’m also hopeful he can find the right balance between showcasing the speed of Adrian Martinez as a legitimate threat, but also protecting him so he can stay healthy and doesn’t get beat up too much. If anyone understands how important that could be to the team’s success, it’s Collin Klein, so I’m optimistic. Plus, Martinez obviously does not have to be the No. 1 option in the run game, which is helpful.
wildcat00: I think Klein understands the offense you can run behind, well, a QB like him with a player like Deuce Vaughn in the backfield. I expect his enthusiasm and slightly newer offensive ideas will help this team out. But as much as I didn’t enjoy Messingham’s tenure at OC, he was also hampered by the personnel we fielded at various times, so maybe it’s not the playcalling but the continued good health of the skills players on offense and the offensive line that will be the difference maker?
JT : I expect us to see more “multiple”, like we saw from Bill Snyder during his heyday. Lots of changing the offensive lineup without actually changing the players on the field to create mismatches and cause the defense to panic and play with mistakes. Though I don’t think we’ll see as much QB run game as some may fear, Klein knows that not every QB is a human battering ram like he was.
AMS 84: I don’t know how much of this is the coordinator’s call, but I’d like to see the offense play to win more. Going for it on fourth down more often when the odds are good, for example. Converting on fourth down is almost like forcing a turnover, while getting a stop on fourth down (outside of a goal-line stand) is like a good punt return, and I know which I would rather have.
What game are you most looking forward to, and why?
Luke: This one’s easy. I’m a Mizzou grad and that will be the first time I attend a game at KSU Stadium since 2014.
Eric: Honestly? The game I’m most looking forward to *right now* is the South Dakota game. Let’s get this show started, and I am genuinely interested to see what Martinez looks like under center with a real football team around him.
wildcat00: The first game, lol. Actually, if I’m honest, the one game I’m really looking forward to is Iowa State. Not only have the Clones beaten K-State two years in a row, but have also outscored the Wildcats 78-20. We’re way overdue for a win.
JT: Probably the Missouri game, followed closely by OU, then Iowa State. Setting an early tone against a non-conference P5 opponent is huge. Look at the success it helped breed last season, and in 2019, and 2012/2011. Even if that opponent turns out to be not very good, early momentum from beating them can push the team early in the conference slate.
Jon: This has been true for a couple of years now, and it’s only gotten spicier thanks to realignment and my escape from the Sooner State: Oklahoma. This year’s game has the potential to be momentous, not least because Oklahoma – while admittedly recruiting like gangbusters – is staring at a probable one-year window of vulnerability.
AMS 84: I’m surprised more people didn’t say Missouri, because that is the obvious answer for me, even though I had to cancel plans to attend the game for family reasons. Even with the decade-long pause in the series, they are still one of our most common opponents in history, just a few hours down I-70. But maybe I’m biased because I used to work in a newsroom where it was me plus a Kansas grad and a Missouri grad, so there was a lot of good trash talk about Big 12 sports.
Who will we look at as K-State’s MVPs on offense and defense at the end of the season?
wildcat00: It has to be Deuce Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah. If it turns out not to be, I’m worried about how the season went. I think.
Eric: Deuce and Felix, and if it isn’t, it’s because one of them got hurt.
AMS 84: It’s probably Deuce and Felix, but there is always the possibility someone really breaks out and steals the crown even without either of them missing action.
JT: Offense: Deuce Vaughn, duh. But seriously, if there’s another answer, then things have either gone seriously off the rails, or someone else has stepped up and we’re looking at playing extra games at the end of the season. Defense: Daniel Green. King Felix would be an easy answer here, and Green isn’t that hard of a pick either, but I feel like if Green is having an elite season, then the whole defense is going to be better.
Jon: It’s gonna be Deuce on offense, and ironically he’s going to be more spectacular if Adrian Martinez really shines. That’s because defenses won’t be able to play the “just stop Deuce” game. On defense, the easy answer is Felix.
Luke: Deuce Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah.