We’ve entered a new phase in the Chris Klieman era of Kansas State football. Like most coaches, he started out in the program (re)building stage. A lapse in recruiting, coupled with a rash of transfers a the end of Snyder 2.0 left him with a roster full of holes with scant athleticism. He managed to grind out two 8-win seasons in three years, and would have hit 6 wins in the Covid season if his entire roster wasn’t ravaged by injuries or illness in the back half of the season. With the help of the transfer portal, K-State has managed to win and rebuild at the same time. I don’t think people appreciate the difficulty of that task.
We have now entered the expectation phase of the Klieman era.
Athlon put out their Preseason 2022 All-Conference Team a little while ago, and the Wildcats had significant presence.
RB - Deuce Vaughn
OG - Cooper Beebe
DL - Felix Anudike-Uzomah
LB - Daniel Green
CB - Julius Brents
KR - Malik Knowles
DL - Eli Huggins
CB - Ekow Boye-Doe
LB - Khalid Duke
WR - Phillip Brooks
OL - Christian Duffie
PR - Phillip Brooks
K-State has 12 total selections and 11 players (Brooks is both a WR and a PR) on the team. That’s good for 5th most in the Big 12, ahead of TCU (11), Texas Tech (11), West Virginia (11), Iowa State (10) and Kansas (6...LOL).
Before the 2021 season, Athlon thought the Wildcats had Kansas-level talent, with 6 All-Conference players. That was good for 9th in the Big 12 (only in front of Kansas with 4...again LOL). Only one of those (Deuce of course) was a 1st team position player (Brooks was the 1st team PR). This season the Wildcats have five 1st team position players (Malik is the 1st team KR). That’s a huge jump in perceived talent and at least one person in sports media has (somewhat begrudgingly) taken notice.
Hello, I am @ESPN_BillC, and I am officially Talking Myself Into Kansas State For 2022. Anyone want to join me on this potentially doomed expedition?— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) May 31, 2022
There is always pressure on a college football coach to win games, but the pressure to win when people expect you to win is a little different than the “make it to 6 wins somehow” pressure. This squad is starting to receive some national recognition. There are several legit high round NFL prospects on the roster and the Deuce Vaughn/Adrian Martinez combination could be one of the most combustible backfield pairings in the nation. Not only should this team win, but they should put up points. Throw in a defense with (at least) two high level pass rushers aided by two lockdown corners and, if nothing else, the Wildcats should be a fun team to watch on both sides of the ball.
With the added eyes comes added external pressure to win. That’s a bit of a double edged sword. On the positive side of the equation, if Kansas State can pull off a 9-10 win season and contend in the Big 12, Coach Klieman’s job moving forward, at least in terms of recruiting, should get substantially easier. On the negative side, this team won’t sneak up on anyone this year, and bad losses will be hard to forgive. When you’re not expected to be good, losing a game to a perpetual doormat like Iowa State* isn’t the end of the world...it’s not great...but it’s not going to derail your season. This season, an inexcusable loss to the likes of Iowa State or West Virginia would be significantly harder to accept.
Coach Klieman has dealt with expectations before while dominating the FCS at North Dakota State, but this is a different beast. Plenty of coaches fail to hit the “expectations” portion of their coaching tenure, even more fail to meet expectations once they make it this far. I’m old enough to remember Butch Jones and the Volunteers crashing and burning in the expectations phase. I lived through Tommy Bowden and Clemson perpetually under-performing to the point where “Clemsoning” snuck into the sports lexicon. Matt Campbell and Iowa State went 7-6 with (arguably) their best roster in school history, and have been stuck in the “expectations but no payoff” mode for most of the Campbell tenure (granted, not being terrible is the bar at Iowa State).
Nothing is more frustrating for a fanbase (Iowa State excluded) than to have the talent to get over the hump, but never make it to the other side. Playing in the Big 12 Championship isn’t the expectation for this Kansas State team, but for the first time in a long time, it’s not a EMAW fever dream conjured after a long night in Aggieville. This team has legit talent at crucial positions. Oklahoma and Texas still have more “on-paper” talent, but after that, the Wildcats should be able to line up and go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Big 12. The gap between Oklahoma and Texas is more of a ditch than a chasm this season.
Momentum is crucial in college football, and winning begets winning. Manhattan will never be an easy place to recruit, but it gets easier with some national buzz. A few of those 4* recruits that the Wildcats have lost to other mid-level programs (like Nebraska...I’m feeling generous) might end up in the Little Apple instead. If this team can hit 9-10 wins this season, with an exciting offense, it’s going to be much harder for a 4* prospect like Maize quarterback Avery Johnson to head to Oregon, Washington, or Virginia, because he knows he can win, and win big at K-State. A Heisman invite for Deuce Vaughn (which is a definite possibility, and would probably require a 9 or 10 win season) would make in-state running backs John Randal Jr. and Dylan Edwards take an even harder look. King Felix and Khalid Duke will terrorize quarterbacks and the corners should grab several interceptions. That’s going to look nice on national television.
This roster is built to win right now, and it’s built in a way that should be entertaining to watch. I expect more national eyes on the Kansas State program this season. If the team can play up to (or exceed) expectations, big things could be in store for the Wildcats. A disappointing season could derail the momentum K-State is currently enjoying on the recruiting trail (in terms of attracting the attention of top level talent).
I suggest y’all strap in now, because the season should be a wild wide.