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Friday, August 22, 2008
Kansas State's most pressing questions

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Kansas State coach Ron Prince received a one-year contract extension earlier this month, despite watching his team crater down the stretch last season with four-straight losses to finish with a disappointing 5-7 record.

The pressure will be on the Wildcats to turn things around immediately with an infusion of 19 junior-college transfers. That group will be counted on to mend a leaky defense and provide playmakers at wide receiver and running back.

As the Wildcats build to their season opener Aug. 30 against North Texas, here are five questions that are keeping Prince concerned.

1. Can a running back be found?

Kansas State has no running backs with Division I experience after Leon Patton was suspended. Walk-on Keithen Valentine will get the first shot, with freshman Logan Dold poised for an opportunity if he should falter.

2. Can QB Josh Freeman find some consistency?

Freeman's development will be critical this season. People forget that he was thrust into a starting role as a freshman and had to learn as he went -- often behind a struggling offensive line. But he's shown enough flashes -- like those in victories against Texas the last two seasons -- that he needs to match those more often. If he can do that consistently, he might yet reach the NFL draftability that Prince has been talking up this summer.

3. Will a playmaker emerge to replace Jordy Nelson at receiver?

Only Deon Murphy has experience among Kansas State's wide receivers. Brandon Banks and Aubrey Quarles will get the first opportunities, but look for Murphy's numbers to rise dramatically as the Wildcats' featured receiver.

4. Improve the pass rush

The Wildcats produced 30 sacks last year, but tailed off dramatically late in the season. They didn't record a sack in three of the final six games of the season and notched only five during a four-game losing streak to finish the season. NT Brandon Balkcom and junior-college transfer Daniel Calvin need to emerge inside to help reduce the pressure on Ian Campbell, who returns to defensive end where he was an All-Big 12 player as a sophomore.

5. Hope the junior-college players come through

After signing 19 junior-college transfers this spring, Prince is hoping for an immediate talent infusion. The biggest question will be on defense, where Kansas State cratered last year, allowing 198 points in the final four games of the season. And the Wildcats will be tested by playing the Big 12's four highest-scoring offenses from last season -- Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Look for early contributions from CB Blair Irvin, a former minor-league baseball player, and inside linebackers Hansen Sekona and Ulla Pomele among the junior-college players. Prince hopes for more help as the season progresses.