Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Breaking down spring camp: Kansas State
By ESPN.com staff
Kansas State is the last Big 12 team to take the field this spring. Let's take a closer look:
Schedule: Kansas State holds the first of 15 practices today, capped by the Purple/White game on April 28. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: The expectations. Kansas State returns 18 starters from last season's team; only seven teams in college football return more. Last season's team was picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, but won 10 games and earned a second-place finish. Bring back a team like that, and the spring's going to sound very, very different. Kansas State will likely tote a top-15 ranking into the season, and there's a lot more attention being paid to Manhattan this spring after Bill Snyder proved returning to the sidelines was a worthy cause.
New faces: Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh left for South Florida, but new defensive coordinator Tom Hayes inherits a great defense with plenty of talent and experience. Kansas State also welcomes several early enrollees: quarterback Tavarius Bender, fullback Glenn Gronkowski, and defensive lineman Wesley Hollingshed from the juco ranks. Hollingshed, a 6-foot-2, 300-pounder from Texas, could help fill the void left by defensive tackle Ray Kibble, who made 38 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in 2011.
Breaking out: Arthur Brown earned plenty of attention last season, but fellow linebacker Tre Walker could be poised for a big junior season. Walker made 52 stops last season, and broke up three passes.
Big shoes to fill: The offensive line. Kansas State's rushing attack carried it to the Cotton Bowl last season, but the biggest losses were on the front line. Tackles Clyde Aufner and Zach Hanson, and guard Colton Freeze are gone, so finding replacements this spring will be important. Center B.J. Finney might emerge as one of the team's leaders, but look for guys like Cornelius Lucas, Jordan Allred and Ethan Douglas to get the first shot at filling those holes. Keenan Taylor should be a factor at guard, too. Kansas State also brought in juco transfers Tavon Rooks and Ellwood Clement on the line. Last season's starting left tackle, Manese Foketi, suffered a season-ending injury early, but could be granted a medical redshirt and return for 2012.
All eyes on: Collin Klein. How much better of a passer will he become this offseason? We saw a lot of progression from September to December. Will that continue into the offseason, or has Klein hit his ceiling as a passer? He has an underwhelming receiving corps to throw to, but if Kansas State develops a better passing game, the offense is going to be the nation's most frustrating to stop. If Klein shows up with much more accuracy in the fall, he's going to have legitimate Heisman aspirations, too.
Question marks: Kansas State can't prove it until the fall, but was last season a fluke, or the start of something special? There's no ignoring the Wildcats' 8-1 mark in games decided by a touchdown or less. In every game except a road loss against Oklahoma State, the Wildcats found ways to make plays and come back from fourth-quarter deficits. Can they improve and avoid some of those situations, but still perform in tight spots late in games? No question is bigger for the Wildcats in 2012. They won 10 games last season, but could have easily been closer to 7-5.