There could be questions everywhere else on the team, but at this point it feels like Conor Riley’s crew up front just reloads every single year without missing a beat.
Of course that’s not entirely true, but the offensive line at Kansas State is about as much of a sure-thing as you can get in college football. Riley is going to have 8-10 dudes that could start or play extended minutes at any moment, and without the casual fan noticing much. Seriously. For example, just last season there were multiple games where at least seven linemen received 18 or more snaps in conference play. That’s multiple series in competitive games, not just blowouts. And unless you went back and checked the snap count like I did, there’s no way you could have told me when those switches happened.
And as good as the group overall is, the cream still rose to the top, and we have 6* starters slated to open the season.
Senior KT Leveston has taken over at left tackle after an offseason that saw him take a lot of reps at the spot and improve his body as well, dropping a bunch of bad weight due to his efforts in the weight room and nutrition table. By his own admission, he willingly took on extra reps this spring and summer while Andrew Leingang, the freshman who will likely be his primary backup, was working through some injuries.
The emergence of KT at left tackle — as well as Leingang and Kingsley Ugwu, who has been quiet after coming in with some accolades from Hutch CC prior to the 2021 season — means that Cooper Beebe, who earned First Team All-Big 12 honors at the spot last year and Preseason All-American and All-Big 12 honors, gets to move inside to his more natural position of guard. Beebe is one of the best linemen in the country — currently appearing on the Outland Trohpy watch list if you still weren’t sure of his bona-fides — and the junior will likely have to seriously consider his NFL options after the end of the season. Backing him up this season is super-senior Dawson Delforge, who has seen spot action at both guards spots the last two seasons after beginning his collegiate career at Butler CC.
Center will be one position where we may see a battle throughout the year, or at least a regular splitting of snaps. Hayden Gillum, a senior former-walk-on, will trot out for the opening snap of the season, but expect to see heavy doses of sophomore Hadley Panzer. The two western Kansas guys have battled for the spot all offseason after both seeing some game reps last year spelling Noah Johnson, and if they couldn’t settle it in camp, Conor Riley likely won’t pick just one during the season (and nor should he have to).
Taylor Poitier is really the “new” name to the two-deep, but that’s not exactly his fault. He was very likely going to be the starter at right guard last season after seeing some action as a redshirt freshman in 2020, but a freak injury during fall camp last year sidelined him for the season. It was weird enough that he couldn’t walk for a while, and was concerned that he’d even play football again. But he’s back and healthy, and the junior is ready to be a force at guard. Thought that doesn’t mean it’s solely his spot, because just like at center, Hadley Panzer is rightfreakingthere, and appears to be just so good that it will be hard to keep him off the field in one way or another.
Also remember that the guard and center spots are mostly fluid in Conor Riley’s scheme, and that Dawson Delforge is as likely to come in at RG/C in case of injury as is Panzer. Or sophomore Sam Shields, or freshman Alex Key.
Over at RT is the lone unchanged starter from last season, as we get the return of senior Christian Duffie. Duffie is one of the last hold-overs from the Bill Snyder (and Charlie Dickey) era along the line, taking his redshirt season in 2018. Duffie has held down the right side of line since 2020, when he started the final eight games of the season, and started all 13 games last season. If Beebe is an absolute lock on the left side, Duffie is that at right tackle. He may not have the NFL scouts drooling like Beebe, but he’s an incredibly solid player and will garner some interest should he decide not to use his extra season of eligibility. Backing up him, truly, is Carver Willis, though expect to see Leingang or Ugwu there if needed. Willis played some as a true freshman in 2020 out of necessity, and held his own at left tackle despite still needing development. He took a full redshirt in 2021, and is back in 2022 to start seeing action again after getting to spend a whole season in the weight room.
Don’t expect any of the true freshmen to appear at tackle, though there are two or three that might qualify. The only other guy who might see game action on the edge is Witt Mitchum, though the sophomore has yet to see game action as a Wildcat.
Overall, the offensive line should again be a strength for the Wildcats. And while o-line play is always critical, opening up holes for Heisman-hopeful Deuce Vaughn and keeping new QB Adrian Martinez upright and in a clean pocket (something his line at Nebraska was never able to do) is going to be extra important to this team’s success. It’s consistently been one of the best units in the country, and 2022 looks like it should be no different.
Be afraid Big 12 d-lines. Be very afraid.