Big 12: Collin Klein

Big 12 morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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Kick off your morning with some beef and a laugh. No, not that kind of beef.
  • It's odd to see Collin Klein and Kansas State assistant coach in the same sentence. We're just a couple years removed from watching Klein destroy Big 12 defenses while leading K-State to a Big 12 title. Yet Klein has joined the Wildcats' coaching staff and, while it's not his dream job, Klein is already starting to make an impact as a part of Bill Snyder's staff, writes Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star. Leave it to Bill Snyder to recognize Klein's potential as a coach and give him an opportunity to return to Manhattan, Kansas, this fall. Even though Klein doesn't like the thought of his playing days being over, something tells me he could experience a meteoric rise up the coaching ranks if he decides coaching is his future.
  • Running backs DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly are poised to share carries in Iowa State's backfield this season. ISU coach Paul Rhoads believes both guys are "good enough for us to win in the Big 12" reports Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. Wimberly averaged 4.02 yards per carry in 2013, while Nealy averaged 3.85 yards per carry. Neither running back averaged more than five yards per touch from scrimmage last season, so Wimberly or Nealy would need to separate themselves from the competition if making big plays is going to be a consistent part of their resume this fall.
  • As good as true freshman Dravon Henry has looked during his first few weeks at West Virginia, sophomore Jeremy Tyler won't be giving up his spot in the Mountaineers' secondary without a fight, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. It looks like WVU will be using both players in the secondary, and they hope for minimal dropoff from last season. Henry has been one of the stars of WVU's preseason camp but don't overlook Tyler, who was overshadowed by fellow freshman Daryl Worley in 2013 and now seems to be overshadowed by Henry. Yet Tyler was really starting to come on late in his freshman campaign, recording 13 of his 17 tackles in the final two games of the season.
  • Offensive success at Oklahoma State could be defined by the Cowboys' offensive line. And center Paul Lewis finds himself in the spotlight after a couple of early departures from the program. New offensive line coach Bob Connelly wants Lewis to be "a direct reflection of me" reports Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman. A strong season from the offensive line will be critical for a Cowboys' squad overflowing with skill position talent on offense. If Lewis can become an anchor of the offensive front, the Cowboys have the skill talent to surprise.
  • Oklahoma has high expectations for linebacker Jordan Evans, particularly if Frank Shannon cannot play this season, writes The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber. Evans was late addition to the Sooners' Class of 2013 and played several different positions at Norman (Oklahoma) North High School, including kick returner. Shannon led OU in tackles last season, but Evans is an upgrade athletically. He was one of OU's standouts during the offseason, which should give Sooners fans peace of mind if Shannon is unable to play.
Coaches and players alike can make a name for themselves on third down. Receivers earn reputations for their ability to move the chains, signal-callers separate themselves as clutch performers and coaches’ creative play calling rises to the forefront during those key moments.

A closer look at the production of Big 12 offenses and defenses on third down can provide a glimpse at how champions are made and reveal areas of improvement heading into the 2014 season.

The stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information, are from conference games only during the past two seasons in an effort to provide a fair baseline for every team. The teams are listed alphabetically with third-down conversion rate, opponent third-down conversion rate, yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more and yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more serving as the four key categories to show production on third down, or lack thereof.

Some thoughts and notes:

  • Kansas State leads the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage in the past two seasons, and it’s no major surprise to see the Wildcats sitting atop the conference, as Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are efficient and productive. Playing three different quarterbacks -- Collin Klein, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams -- during this stretch, K-State has the Big 12’s top raw QBR on third down (85) in this span. However, Waters’ 57 raw QBR on third down was the lowest of the trio. He’s expected to be KSU’s starter this fall and will need to play better on third down if the Wildcats hope to make a Big 12 title run.
  • Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, the only other teams joining KSU with better than 40 percent conversions on third down, combined with the Wildcats to win 92 games during the past two seasons. Third-down success on offense and overall success seem to go hand in hand.
  • [+] EnlargeBill Snyder
    AP Photo/Matt YorkBill Snyder's Kansas State teams have excelled on third down, a big reason for the Wildcats' recent success.
    Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, the bottom three teams in third-down conversion percentage, will enter 2014 with new offensive coordinators, underscoring the importance of third-down success.
  • TCU’s defense was exceptional on third down, leading the conference with a 31.9 percent opponent third-down conversion percentage. If the Horned Frogs continue that production, and the offense improves its 31.3 third-down conversion rate, TCU could return to a bowl in 2014. New coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are tasked with jump-starting the Horned Frogs offense.
  • Oklahoma State allowed just 34.7 percent opponent third-down conversion rate, joining TCU as the lone Big 12 schools under 35 percent in that category. An underrated defense is one reason Mike Gundy's squad won 18 games while playing musical chairs at the quarterback position during the past two seasons.
  • Baylor and Kansas State are in the bottom half of the Big 12 in opponent third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons, a sign that stellar defense on third down is not a requirement to win the Big 12 title. KSU was sixth at 40.5 percent, Baylor was ninth at 44.2 percent. The Wildcats won the conference title in 2012, Baylor won in 2013.
  • West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas are the teams in the bottom half of the conference in third-down conversion rate and opponent third-down conversion rate. Those three teams combined to win 12 conference games in the past two seasons.
  • Baylor led the Big 12 in yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more with a 6.97 ypp average. The Bears' explosive offense was joined by Oklahoma (6.96), Texas (6.89) and West Virginia (6.43) as the lone teams to average at least six yards per play in that scenario.
  • Texas Tech, at 4.68 yards per play, is surprisingly low in this scenario, rating ninth in the conference . The Red Raiders’ offense is consistently among the Big 12’s best but this is a clear area of improvement for Kliff Kingsbury’s squad.
  • OSU sits atop the conference at 3.98 yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more, another sign of how underrated its defense has been over the past two seasons.
  • KSU is the only other team that allowed less than five yards (4.23) in that scenario and is the only team in the top half of the Big 12 in yards per play and yards per play allowed in that scenario. Third-down success, on both sides of the ball, was a big part of KSU’s ability to consistently win (and surprise) during the past two seasons.

Q&A: Kansas State QB Daniel Sams

November, 8, 2013
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Kansas State is suddenly on a roll. And quarterback Daniel Sams is a big reason why.

Sams trails only Baylor’s Bryce Petty in Big 12 QBR, and has rapidly improved his passing accuracy in recent weeks. In fact in his last two games, Sams has completed 12 of 13 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeWaters-Sams
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsDaniel Sams, right, has formed a successful QB partnership at Kansas State with Jake Waters, left.
Sams has been the Big 12’s best running quarterback all season, too. Last month, he nearly led K-State to an upset of Baylor with 199 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Sams is fifth in the league among all players with 595 rushing yards.

As the Wildcats prepare to travel to Texas Tech, Sams spoke with me about his relationship with co-starting QB Jake Waters, what he learned from playing behind Collin Klein and what it will take for the Wildcats to run the table:

Jake Trotter: You guys are finally beginning to roll with two straight wins. What has allowed it to all click?

Daniel Sams: We finally got a chemistry together. Everybody is being included in the offense. The offensive line is doing what they have to do up front. It feels good to have Tramaine [Thompson] and [Tyler] Lockett back, two solid receivers, who can do anything when the ball is in the air. It feels really good to be clicking.

Trotter: Are Lockett and Thompson underrated?

Sams: I feel like those guys, they’re overlooked sometimes simply because we’re known for our run game and QB run game. I feel like they’re really underrated. I feel like they can go up against any secondary in the nation, and one-on-one I would like my chances.

Trotter: You guys were in all four of your losses. Is it a little annoying you guys didn’t start playing this way earlier? You might be 7-1 or something.

Sams: It bothers us sometimes. We still look on bright side of it. We know what we’re capable of now. We know what to expect. Everyone is into playing their roles. It’s better late than never. We’ve still got four games to finish out strong.

Trotter: People say you can’t play two quarterbacks and be successful. How have you and Jake made it work?

Sams: It’s really the coaching staff. I feel like they’re using us well. We play an equal amount. We both bring something different. I can’t really complain about switching it around. Me and Jake, we’re each other’s biggest fan and each other’s biggest critic. It’s like having another coach. At the end of the day, we both want to win.

Trotter: What is your relationship with Jake like?

Sams: It’s not really friendship, it’s a brotherhood. We want to help each other out. It was a competition at first, but we both realized we wanted to win, how much the success of the football team meant to us, that drew us closer together. It’s really a partnership anymore. We encourage each other. When I’m coming off the field, I tell him, ‘It’s your turn.’ We call it, tag-teaming the defense.

Trotter: When did the competition become a partnership?

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesDaniel Sams has been the Big 12s best running quarterback this season.
Sams: After the Texas game, we sat down together and were like, as long as we’re both playing, who cares in what order and for how long? Really that’s when the competition got thrown out the window. We just wanted to be successful.

Trotter: What’s it like playing for Bill Snyder?

Sams: It’s amazing. You’re not just playing for legendary coach, you’re learning valuable lessons in life. I know since I’ve been here, I’ve changed. When I first got here, I was a player all out for myself. All I cared about was how my performance was looking to everyone else. Being around what Coach Snyder coaches and teaches, he molds you into the man. I’m not just saying that, either. I really feel that way. Ex-players come back and they say the same thing.

Trotter: What did you learn from Collin Klein?

Sams: We don’t have enough time for me to tell you everything. He not only taught me to be a great QB and the offense and the system, he taught me many lessons about life. He’s been a major part of my life. More than just a teammate. My father always told me, get connected to somebody you can learn from. Colin was really the best person. I can’t recall him ever do anything wrong on or off the field.

Trotter: What specifically did he teach you?

Sams: How to self-assess. Are you doing everything to be the best player you can be? Everything to be the best teammate? That’s something he always told me. I still think about that to this day.

Trotter: What do you say to people who say, Daniel Sams, he can’t throw the ball, he’s just a running quarterback?

Sams: I really don’t say anything. I try to speak with my performance I admit, it used to bother me. Now that I’m doing both, running and passing, it really doesn’t bother me.

Trotter: You seemed to exasperate Coach Snyder for awhile there with the turnovers, but you’ve since eliminated them. What’s been the difference?

Sams: Coach Snyder. When you look at history of K-State football, that’s something we’ve never done, beating ourselves as far penalties and turnovers. I got tired of being in the hot seat with coach after game with the turnovers I had. I had to break that habit as fast as I could.

Trotter: It’s not good to be in Coach Snyder’s hot seat?

Sams: No, it never is.

Trotter: Can this team run the table?

Sams: I feel like we can run the table. The offense and defense and even the special teams are clicking on all cylinders. We now know what to expect form each other. As long as we do that and prepare well, we feel like we can win every game.

Trotter: Last question. Your favorite local place to eat in Manhattan?

Sams: The So Long Saloon. The burgers there second-to-none. I catch myself going there a lot.


Q&A: Former K-State QB Collin Klein

August, 26, 2013
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The offseason-long battle to find Kansas State’s next starting quarterback ended Monday. Junior college transfer Jake Waters will get the start Saturday against North Dakota State.

Waters was the crown jewel of the Wildcats’ recruiting class, and his addition was so critical to the staff that Collin Klein even helped recruit him to Manhattan. That wasn’t the biggest reason why Waters ultimately chose KSU over Penn State, but it sure didn’t hurt to have Klein’s support.

[+] EnlargeKlein
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireFormer Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is working out and trying to latch on to an NFL roster.
He’s not quite the runner that Klein was as a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, but Waters is a proven passer. In his record-setting 2012 season at Iowa Western, Waters threw for 3,501 yards, 39 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Replacing Klein is no doubt a tall task. We caught up with Klein on Sunday for this story about the KSU quarterback race. He was adamant that no matter who won the job, leadership will be one of many important traits demanded of his successor.

“There’s a lot more than that, but that’s a big component,” Klein said. “Really, it’s the full package that’s important.”

Here’s more from our interview, including Klein’s thoughts on Waters and his own future:

What advice did you give Jake Waters when he arrived on campus?

CK: I just told him to work as hard as he possibly could, enjoy the experience and have fun. It’ll happen for you. I know they’re both working hard, trying to get themselves better, trying to get the team better. That’s the most important thing.

Waters came in this spring and had a lot of catching up to do. Is this offense pretty difficult to learn?

CK: Yeah, it really is. There’s a lot on the quarterback in terms of knowing what’s going on. But that’s part of the beauty of it, too.

Daniel Sams is known more for his rushing talents. From your experience, does K-State need a dual-threat guy running the offense?

CK: I think it can work no matter what, as long as the team comes together and they work together. That’s the most important thing. The coaches do such a good job of putting you in position to succeed. They’ll be just fine.

Do you think, with Waters and Sams, Kansas State can’t go wrong with either option?

CK: I mean, both bring very good things. I think they’ll both see the field at some point.

Think these guys will feel some pressure considering they’re following a Heisman finalist?

CK: I don’t think so. I think, again, they’re just focused on what they’re trying to do and the benefit of the team. You can’t go wrong with that.

You know the talent that Waters and Sams will be surrounded by. Are they set up well to succeed with who’s coming back on offense?

CK: They’ll be just fine. It’s going to depend on how they come together, how they play together and how tough they are as a group. All those things will really carry the day for them

What are you up to these days?

CK: I’m in Manhattan working out still. I’m just trying to get on a practice squad or something somewhere. We’ve been staying in touch with a couple of teams. We’ll see what happens.

While you’re still in town, are you spending much time around the program? Do you talk with those quarterbacks at all?

CK: Not too much. I’m around a little bit, but this is their time. Anything I can do to help support, I’ll be there.

You faced pressure during the draft process to try other positions. Were you glad the Texans let you try out as a QB?

CK: No question. It was very refreshing and I had nothing but positive feedback from them down there. I was very grateful they gave me the chance.

Where’s your confidence level right now about your chances of getting on an NFL roster in the near future?

CK: I think it’s pretty good. Again, this whole process is about learning as we go and taking it in stride. So we’ll see what happens.

Tell me about the Collin Klein Passing Academy you held this summer. How’d it go?

CK: It was amazing. We had seven different camps and almost had 1,000 kids. We were able to get in certain communities around the state of Kansas and work with kids on the field. I was so happy to get to work with the kids and share some character and leadership values that I’ve been very blessed to have role models share with me. To be able to share those things with them was really special.
Daniel SamsEd Zurga/Getty ImagesWhether he wins the starting job or not, expect Daniel Sams to be involved in the offense.

The guy Daniel Sams and Jake Waters are competing to replace casts a long shadow, but he isn’t standing too far away these days.

Collin Klein, undrafted last spring, is still in Manhattan, Kan., working out for his next NFL opportunity. And he’s as excited as anyone to see how this quarterback battle plays out.

“I think the competition will do nothing but make them better,” Klein told ESPN.com on Sunday. “It’s not an easy process from a player’s perspective. There’s uncertainty; there are up and down days. You’ve got to really focus on being the best you can possibly be, and they’ll both be better for it.”

Kansas State WildcatsAmid all the attention the rest of the Big 12 quarterback battles garnered this month, somehow the one replacing the Heisman Trophy finalist and Big 12 Athlete of the Year went overlooked.

Klein accounted for close to 70 percent of KSU’s total offense last season. What he brought to the Wildcat program, beyond reaching a No. 2 BCS ranking and winning the Big 12 title, is incalculable.

That’s why KSU coach Bill Snyder doesn’t talk about his decision in terms of passing and rushing yards. This isn’t about objective statistical performance. Because, in truth, he could get good numbers from either candidate.

What Kansas State needs is a leader.

“I appreciate the competitiveness of it and also the fact that they are providing quality leadership,” Snyder said on Aug. 5. “They are helping each other and showing a tremendous amount of unselfishness.”

Most of the talk about Snyder’s big decision has centered on understanding the offense. Sams, entering his third year in the program, would seem to have an undeniable advantage there, but Waters has been given every opportunity to make up ground.

Of the many differences between these two quarterbacks, that experience might be most important. But look closer at each and you appreciate just what a difficult decision this might be for Snyder and his staff.

Sams is a proven commodity as a rusher, picking up 235 yards (7.3 per carry) and three scores last season. Even though he has attempted only eight passes as a Wildcat, his predecessor knows the sophomore is capable of big things.

“He’s just an electric player,” Klein said. “He’s very athletically gifted and can make something really special out of nothing. He’s a truly gifted player.”

Sams has been around long enough to know all the ins and outs of what offensive coordinator Dana Dimel expects. He knows the playbook from cover to cover by now. This fall camp has been about fine-tuning.

“I am very comfortable with the offense, but I try not to get complacent because I know the offense well,” Sams said this month. “I still try to work on timing with the receivers and find chemistry and let everything else fall into place.”

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters might lack experience, but he has a 49-2 record as a starter since high school.
One thing is certain: Waters is a winner. He took over an Iowa Western Community College program entering only its fourth year in existence and won a national junior college championship in 2012. Including his high school career, he’s 49-2 as a starter.

“This is a great kid,” Klein said. “He works very hard, studies very hard, picks things up fairly quickly. So yeah, he’s going to be good.”

For Snyder and Dimel, it won’t be as simple as just picking one guy over the other. Dimel already has admitted publicly that Sams will have a role in the offense even if he’s not the starter. The KSU staff wants the ball in his hands.

It might seem like Kansas State and its offense are at a crossroads while everyone waits for Snyder’s decision. They’re just too different to suggest the offense will perform the same with either at the helm. But keep this in mind: The battle isn’t really over on Saturday.

Klein won’t be surprised if their competition continues to be waged during the season. He expects both passers to play at some point, and he knows that’s not an easy proposition for anyone involved.

“It’s something, as a player, you can’t control and you’ve just got to do your best every day and let the coaches be coaches and make those decisions,” Klein said. “It’s not an easy or fun process at times, but it’s about what’s best for the team, and if that’s what they think is best for the team, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

And as long as he’s still working out in the Little Apple, he said he’d be happy to help out Waters and Sams if they’re ever in need.

Just don’t ask Klein to make any predictions on who’s winning his old job.

“I’m going to keep quiet just like everybody else,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how coach likes it, and it’s probably better for the team.”

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is the Big 12's athlete of the year, along with Oklahoma softball pitcher Keilani Ricketts.

The Wildcats quarterback led K-State to its first Big 12 title since 2003 and a Fiesta Bowl bid.

Klein finished third in Heisman voting last year after being named a finalist for the award. He left K-State with a 21-5 record as a starter and finished the last two seasons with 50 rushing touchdowns, the most ever by an FBS quarterback in consecutive seasons.

Klein also won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award this past season.
One never knows how the gastrointestinal workings of the equine are going to function.

Big 12 future power rankings

June, 21, 2013
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We're all about projecting the future at ESPN.com this week, looking inside the crystal ball at what the next few years will look like for the Big 12.

So who will accomplish the most in the next three years? Here's how I rank the Big 12.

1. Texas: Mack Brown has a lot to prove this year and in the ones that follow, but the Longhorns are deep all over the field and have recruited well. The Big 12 is more competitive than ever, but the Longhorns look like they've moved on from the past three years of struggle. Even if the Longhorns make a change at coach, the new guy would inherit a stacked roster.

2. Oklahoma: There's lots of talk about sliding recruiting rankings and staleness in the Sooner program, but they've still got tradition, talent and a man with a strong case as the Big 12's best coach. Even though the Sooners have won "just" 10 games the past two seasons, there's no reason to believe the Sooners will fall out of the conference's top two over the next three years. OU's 32 wins in those three years lead the Big 12.

3. Oklahoma State: OSU has won 31 games over the past three years and is finally seeing some recruiting payoff for that stretch. But what's keeping them at No. 3? When Oklahoma and Texas reload with strong rosters like OSU did last season, they win more than eight games. OSU proved it can get over the hump, but its valleys have been lower than Oklahoma's and Texas' over the past decade.

4. TCU: The Frogs may have to wait more than three years to see the Big 12 membership dividends really pay off on the recruiting trail. How the 2013 season goes could have a big impact there, but the Frogs already have a lot of talent on the depth chart. Recruiting depth is their main challenge now.

5. Baylor: The Bears are building -- on and off the field. They've seen recruiting take off after Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy campaign, and a new riverside stadium should provide another boost. This is the most talented team at Baylor in Big 12 history, and as long as it holds on to coach Art Briles, it'll be in good shape. He's recruited the quarterback position well, and you're going to be just fine in the Big 12 as long as you do that.

6. Kansas State: The middle of the Big 12 is crowded, so no need to take offense here. Bill Snyder worked his magic with Collin Klein over the past two seasons, but doing it over and over again isn't easy. K-State doesn't have quite as much talent in the wings as it did over the past two seasons, especially on defense, but juco newcomers Nate Jackson and Jake Waters could make the next few seasons interesting.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a wild card who could skyrocket into the top 3-4 under Kliff Kingsbury. For now, it's hard to make an argument for them over more accomplished programs. Recruiting to Lubbock is never easy, but Tommy Tuberville established a little momentum with some of the best classes in school history.

8. West Virginia: It feels a little odd to have WVU this low. But the Mountaineers flopped in 2012, despite having one of the best offenses in school history, and they haven't caught on to recruiting in Texas. Continuing to recruit in Florida might get a little tougher in the Big 12 instead of the Big East, but WVU has to keep its defensive depth. I need more convincing that the Big 12 transition will turn around.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones begin their rebuilding project this year with a young defense and an offense lacking any reliable players in the passing game. Strong running back depth and talent is ISU's biggest strength, but you have to be able to score lots of points (and preferably fast, with apologies to Kansas State) to win consistently in the Big 12.

10. Kansas: KU is employing a risky reboot strategy with a mix-and-match group of junior college transfers. Chris Martin's exit from the program has the project off to a rough start. He might have been KU's best defender next season. The Jayhawks have a long way to go to catch even Iowa State, which has played in three bowl games in the past four years.
Last week, we asked you which of Kansas State's games loomed the largest next fall, and apparently, it's all about turning heads.

Kansas State won the Big 12 last season, but with just eight starters returning and Heisman finalist Collin Klein gone, expectations are mostly modest. Some folks have the Wildcats riding high in their preseason top 25s, but K-State is more often picked to finish outside the top half of the Big 12.

Want to change that in one Saturday? Look no further than K-State's September 21 Big 12 debut against Texas. Forty-one percent of voters tabbed K-State's trip to Austin as the Wildcats biggest game of 2013. I'd agree with that, though some validation might be necessary. More on that in a bit.

K-State's game against the Big 12's other national power, Oklahoma, earned just 25 percent of the vote. K-State's trip to Oklahoma State earned 18 percent of the vote, while games against in-state rival Kansas (nine percent) and Big 12 contender TCU (seven percent) lagged well behind the rest.

Just like Oklahoma State's Big 12 title defense in 2012, this year is all about proving Kansas State's not going anywhere. The drain of talent K-State faces is much more difficult than Oklahoma State's but just like OSU, K-State gets to try and prove its worth early in the season against a Texas team capable of Big 12 contention.

On paper, Texas is one of the Big 12's best teams. On paper, K-State might be one of the Big 12's worst. The Wildcats' 7-2 record against Texas in Big 12 play will be on the line, but an early win would do a whole lot more than give ammo to the Big 12 fans who love to watch Texas lose. The big-money Longhorns didn't do much to earn many more friends around the Big 12 in the past few years of realignment, but nothing silences detractors like collecting trophies. (Author's note: Texas didn't do anything different than what everybody else did during realignment: It looked out for its own interests. It just so happened to have a lot more weight to throw around. That makes people mad. Texas is willing to deal with it.) The Longhorns are trying to prove they're back to doing more of that this year, and an experienced, talented team has a great chance to do so.

Kansas State can prove itself early on against that team with a win, but as with any early-season game, the Wildcats would have a lot of work to do to validate its status as a team that can sustain annual status as one of the Big 12's best programs. Collin Klein carried K-State back to prominence. The Wildcats still have to prove they can do it with someone else.

Beating Texas is the first step to making that happen. As far as one game goes, though, nothing would change opinions faster.

That makes it the most important game for the Wildcats of 2013, even if more important games may loom behind it.
We're walking through each Big 12 team and identifying its most irreplaceable talent. He's the guy they can least afford to lose, and the guy to whom an injury or departure would have the most effect.

Let's move on with Kansas State.

More most indispensable players.

Most indispensable player: RB John Hubert

2012 stats: 189 carries, 947 yards, 15 touchdowns. 18 receptions, 98 yards, TD.

Why Kansas State can't afford to lose him: With this K-State team, who really knows? By the end of the season, this could all change, but entering 2013, there's no question to me that Hubert is the guy K-State can least afford to lose. The Waco, Texas native has tons of experience and topped 945 yards in each of the past two seasons. K-State should be strong on the offensive line, which returns all five starters and lost just one player on the final season depth chart along the O-line.

There's no Collin Klein, but Jake Waters or Daniel Sams' stepping into Klein's shoes gets a whole lot easier with Hubert in the backfield. Most important, he'll be productive and should top 1,000 yards. A good offensive line and a consistent running game makes any quarterback look a whole lot better. That applies to Waters or Sams. Without that running game, it could get very ugly for the young guys.

Hubert's biggest asset is he plays so, so much bigger than 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds. His center of gravity is low and he runs with a ton of power. He's tough to bring down and after losing Angelo Pease, K-State doesn't really have another running back on its roster that it can truly count on. Robert Rose is next on the depth chart, but the 5-foot-4, 176-pound senior has little experience and 13 career carries. Hubert's been really durable and that's a great sign for the Wildcats, who don't have much doubt as to their most indispensable player heading into their Big 12 title defense in 2013.
We looked at the 3,000-yard passers on Tuesday, but what about the guys on the ground? The 1,000-yard mark is the benchmark for a good season running the ball, and the Big 12 had just three players reach it in 2012. Three more had at least 925 yards, but who's going to run for 1,000 yards next season?

Here's who I'm taking:

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsLache Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards in Baylor's last six games of last season.
1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: He has physical skills no other back in the league can match, and big-time confidence to go with them. He basically rushed for 1,000 yards in little more than a month last year. I have no doubt he'll do it again. He carries a status into the season as the most dangerous player in the league with the ball in his hands. I'll be shocked if he doesn't top 1,000 yards easily, barring injury.

2. James Sims, Kansas: This will be out of necessity. Sims notched his first 1,000-yard season in 2012 and did so with zero help from the passing game. Everybody knew he'd be getting the ball at least 25 times a game, and they still couldn't stop him. Jake Heaps will add some more balance to help soften up the box, but Sims is still the most reliable player on KU's offense.

3. John Hubert, Kansas State: Hubert's been overshadowed by Collin Klein, and logging over 500 carries in the running game the past couple of seasons has limited what Hubert could do. Still, he's had more than 950 yards in each of the past two seasons. Daniel Sams or Jake Waters will still run the ball, but not as much as Klein did. Look for Hubert to benefit and play the role of bell cow for this offense.

4. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has had a 1,000-yard rusher for six consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the Big 12 and one of the nation's longest. It's still a pass-first offense, but that streak's not ending under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. Smith's role was marginalized last season behind Joseph Randle despite topping 600 yards back in 2011, but he's going to be the main guy ahead of Desmond Roland this year. He's experienced and a solid blocker, too. That'll keep him on the field a whole lot. He's also got deceptive speed for his size.

Just missed: Damien Williams, Oklahoma.

Note: Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia will have plenty of rushing yards, but the carries will be split too many ways for one player to top 1,000 yards.

Video: Friday Four Downs

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
1:00
PM ET

David Ubben is talking Devonte Fields, rivalries, and recruiting trail in this week's Friday Four Downs in the Big 12.

Video: Collin Klein remains unsigned

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
1:00
PM ET

KC Joyner discusses what Collin Klein has to offer as an NFL quarterback.
Collin Klein insisted on working out only at quarterback in advance of last month's NFL Draft, passing up opportunities to let scouts look at him at tight end or receiver.

Kansas State's quarterback a year ago isn't the first Heisman finalist to go undrafted, but he didn't even receive a free agent contract. The Houston Texans invited him to camp to try out, but he left Texans coach Gary Kubiak gushing.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but to watch how far the guy came in two and a half days; (he) really played probably his best day out here today," Kubiak told NFL.com. "He's found a way his whole career, and he's probably going to find a way this time, too."

Very interesting stuff. I'm still skeptical and don't buy Klein as anything close to an NFL quarterback, but Kubiak has been an NFL coach for almost two decades, half of which came as an offensive coordinator. He knows passers. Time will tell if Klein "finds a way," but after just a few days of mini-camp, it's crazy to hear that kind of praise coming Klein's way from an NFL head coach.

Later in the interview, Kubiak reiterated that Klein would "beat the bushes" and "figure out a way." Kubiak can put his money where his mouth is with an official contract soon. That's got to be the next step. Plenty of folks in college football will be taking notice now. However, Klein left camp on Sunday and told FOX 26 in Houston that he didn't sign a contract.

"He's got a ton (of talent)," Kubiak said. "For what he did in college and what (pre-draft quarterback coach) Jake (Plummer) has been doing with him, he's come a long way, as far as working under center and stuff. The arm strength is there. The delivery is a little different but you work with that. But his instincts as a football player you can't coach; the way he just takes off and stuff like that."

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