With the recent release of All-Conference teams and the predicted final standings from the media, conversation about the 2015 Big 12 Football season is in full swing. Like any red-blooded, college football addict, I’m pumped to be scanning through the preseason awards and forecasted finishes. As expected, the media has TCU favored to be the “One True Champion,” Baylor is slotted at second, and Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats will finish in the bottom half; seventh to be exact.
Now, there is a strong contingent of K-Staters who will cry foul and complain that K-State constantly gets no respect! They’re not necessarily wrong, as Snyder and the Cats have been short changed in the preseason numerous times during his second tenure, only to finish in the top three at the end of the season. However, this season the media may finally get it right, as K-State is lacking heavily in known commodities on the offensive side of the ball.
Heading into the 2015 campaign, the Cats are not only having to replace record setting quarterback Jake Waters, but also his record setting confidant at wide receiver, Tyler Lockett. Waters left K-State with the single season record for passing yardage, throwing for 3,501 yards in 2014. Not only did Waters have a knack for deep ball accuracy, but he was a very underrated runner. Prior to his injury on a 50-plus yard scamper to open the second half in Norman, Waters was by far the best running threat the Wildcats had last season. For as good as Waters was while wearing purple, Lockett was better. The K-State legend, like his father Kevin and Uncle Aaron before him, etched his name atop the record books in categories like career receiving yardage, receptions, and touchdown receptions.
Lockett isn’t all that was lost from the receiving core, as the sure handed and steady Curry Sexton graduated as well. The tight end position also took a hit from departures of experienced players, with Zach Trujillo and Zach Nemechek both moving on. Neglecting the rest of the backfield, which we’ll get to in a minute, the Wildcat coaching staff is already in charge of replacing four of six skill position players. As a fan, not only do you worry about who may be throwing it, but if there’ll be anyone with quality talent and experience to catch it!
All was not lost from the skill positions in the transition from 2014 to 2015. K-State does return one running back with quality experience and ability, Charles Jones. Here’s the thing though, Jones was mainly looked upon in short yardage and red zone situations last season. He was more of a package back than an every down type of guy. K-State struggled mightily to run the ball last year, rushing for 500 less yards than they did in 2013, and 700 yards less than 2012. Not all can be placed on the skill position runners of Jones, Waters, and Demarcus Robinson, as the offensive line play was scrutinized plenty throughout the year.
Looking to split time with Jones at the running back position in 2015 will be a couple of redshirt freshmen Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack. Silmon will most likely enter August slightly behind Jones and slightly ahead of Warmack, as the Tulsa, OK native had a surprisingly productive spring session. Warmack, a highly touted recruit from Blue Springs, MO, arrived at K-State garnering some subtle comparisons to Wildcat great Darren Sproles. Many thought Warmack would be “college ready,” as he stepped onto campus, but 2014 proved different. Although the future of the K-State backfield appears bright, there’s nothing at the moment that should drive fans to think the running game will trend upwards in 2015.
With all of the uncertainty at the skill positions for K-State, there is one returning all-conference selection at fullback with Glenn Gronkowski. The youngest of the Gronkowski brothers, “Baby Gronk,” is a triple threat at the fullback position: He’s a fantastic blocker, he’s a solid ball carrier, and he provides you with a sure set of hands to catch within the short passing game. I don’t look for “Baby Gronk,” to necessarily be more involved as a ball carrier or passing target during 2015, but he will offer this offense a steady, experienced presence through a variety of situations.
So, we’re pretty sure what to expect at running back and fullback from the Wildcats for the upcoming season, but what the heck is going to happen at the other skill spots? Well that’s where it gets interesting. There are three names at the wide receiving position that enter 2015 with some experience: Deante Burton, Kody Cook, and Kyle Klein. Cook and Klein, both seniors, can provide solid size and know-how at the receiver spot. Neither one though possesses the playmaking ability of the hometown Burton, who should be target number one for the yet-to-be-determined quarterback. The wildcard in the receiving core will be freshman Denzel Goolsby. The Wichita native is a proven winner, has a Wildcat pedigree, and offers a Curry Sexton-like skill set.
Will reloading take place at the receiving corps and tight end positions? Probably not, as the aforementioned talent has yet to do anything to excite Cat fans into thinking so. Also, there are zero tight ends returning with experience on Saturdays. It’s a complete unknown. However, if there is one thing Bill Snyder and his staff have done repeatedly, it’s take talent that appears underwhelming on paper and develop it into quality Big 12 performers. That ability to turn coal into diamonds is exactly what fans are looking for when it comes to the most important position on the field… quarterback.
The race to replace record setting Jake Waters behind center is wide open. 6’5” junior Joe Hubener received quality snaps last season when Waters was injured, and offers the size you’d want if K-State continues with it’s quarterback centered, power running game. Sophomore Jesse Ertz, in his limited field time, has appeared to be an able runner and possess a better arm than Hubener. Although many fans have started to fall in love with the late addition of Jonathan Banks, the junior college transfer has a very rough throwing motion and behind his peers in learning the system. The final contender will be true freshman Alex Delton. The Hays, KS product was on campus this spring, and had a very respectable spring game while showing flashes of Daniel Sams like running ability.
In the end, Wildcat fans should probably expect more platooning at the quarterback position, as little separation currently exists between each candidate. Quarterback platooning was last seen in 2013 with the flip-flopping of Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. Speaking of the 2013 campaign, that was the last time K-State had to replace the majority of their skill positions. That season started off rough, with the Cats sitting at 2-4 through the first half of the year and struggling on offense. With the first five conference games of 2015 being against teams predicted to finish in the top five, and many skill positions looking to be filled by new talent, expect K-State to be sitting under .500 come early November.
Many unknowns exist for K-Staters entering season seven of Bill 2.0, but this should be a fun year to follow none-the-less. Fog surrounding the skill positions will begin to clear during media days and through August, and player development should be fun to follow through September and October. Recommendation from this long time Cat fan is to be cautiously optimistic as you gear up for 2015. That tip of caution also goes for those in the media picking Bill Snyder and the Cats to finish seventh… They all know better than to do that, right? It’s like they’ll never learn…
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