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Will Howard, Treshaun Ward, and Jake Rubley leaving Kansas State via the portal

The Avery Johnson era commences.

Nov 25, 2023; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Will Howard (18) celebrates a touchdown in the third quarter against the Iowa State Cyclones at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

As he exited the field on Saturday night following Kansas State’s 42-35 loss to Iowa State, Will Howard paused to look back at Wagner Field.

What he probably knew at the time, but we did not know for certain, is that it was for the last time.

Today, three Wildcats announced their intention to enter the transfer portal and forego the bowl game. Howard is of course the most prominent of these, but he was joined by running back Treshaun Ward and third-string quarterback Jake Rubley.

Rubley’s decision is no surprise to anyone, as he may not even have landed a spot on the two-deep in 2024. He certainly wasn’t going to if Howard returned.

Ward’s is also not terribly surprising, as he has the talent and skill to be a feature back in someone’s system, but the K-State offense is a much better fit with DJ Giddens, who emerged as a clear Option A this season as he eclipsed the thousand-yard mark Saturday.

Howard’s situation is much more complicated, and we need to stress that we can only speculate as to his own thinking and desires and what might have gone on behind the scenes. The conclusion which seems the most obvious is that Howard knows Avery Johnson is going to end up being the starter next year, and it’s equally obvious that K-State would have had a very difficult time keeping both quarterbacks on the roster next year. Howard staying may have led to Johnson leaving, especially since he used a year of eligibility this year instead of redshirting.

That may not be the real reason, however, and even if it is there may be more to it. Again, we stress the following are just speculations as to potential factors, and absolutely not anything resembling reporting or rumors from sources.

After experimenting with a two-quarterback scheme in mid-season, K-State basically went back to Howard full-time over the final four games. That allowed Howard to break the school record for career touchdowns and rack up some nice numbers. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to assume this happened for precisely that reason, to try and help Howard get his draft stock up so that he could step away cleanly and allow Johnson to take the reins.

Howard returned last year along with his entire offensive line; most of those guys do not have the option to return in 2024, and that would seem to be something which would play a part in his decision.

Howard can still get drafted; he’s on most people’s rankings of draft-eligible quarterbacks as a potential day-three pick. But a season somewhere else might give Howard the opportunity to increase that stock even further in a way another year in Manhattan might not.

And we can’t discount the possibility that Howard himself feels like Johnson’s earned his shot and just wanted to clear the space for him. There is nothing about Will Howard’s personality to even suggest that this an absurd notion, after all.

It seems shocking to have a starting quarterback who actually has legitimate NFL prospects to enter the portal in the face of potentially not even being the starter the following year, but it’s really nothing new. Jalen Hurts left Alabama for Oklahoma because he was going to lose his job to Tua Tagovailoa, and Hurts came three points away from winning a Super Bowl. Sometimes, the guy behind you can just push you out even if you’re a Hall of Famer.

Howard finishes his K-State career as the school’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 48 and fifth all-time with 5,786 passing yards. His 24 touchdown passes this season tied Ell Roberson for the K-State single season record, and his 2,643 yards rank sixth all time — beating Collin Klein by two yards.

Mid-season, it was fashionable to call for Howard to be benched in favor of Johnson. We defended Howard for the most part, pointing out that his real problem was his receivers — and once Keagan Johnson got healthy and Jayce Brown emerged, Howard’s performance improved drastically. We should all remember that, and honor Howard for what he is:

A Wildcat legend, and a Big 12 champion.