FRISCO, Texas — Kansas State has been through this all once before, but this time the Wildcats hope things turn out a little different.
Bill Snyder, the legendary K-State coach who turned the program from a national laughingstock into one of the country’s most consistent overachievers, retired for the second time in his career after the 2018 season. Snyder also called it quits after the 2005 season, but the Ron Price Era of K-State football went so poorly that Snyder returned in 2009.
Snyder’s second tenure in Manhattan was marked by some success — notably a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2011 — but the Wildcats’ downward slide began a few years ago and bottomed out in 2018 with a 3-6 record in conference play and a 5-7 overall record.
To replace Snyder, K-State brought in Chris Klieman, the ultra-successful architect of the North Dakota State dynasty in the Football Championship Subdivision. Klieman won four FCS national championships over a five-year span, but now he’ll be faced with replacing a legend at K-State and getting the Wildcats back in the hunt for conference championships and bowl berths.
That could prove tough, at least at first. Kansas State was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 preseason media poll and with good reason. The Wildcats are not particuarlly deep in several key spots in 2019. Let’s take a look at the roster:
Quarterback: Junior Skyler Thompson is back for 2019 after starting 10 games last season, but success was hard to come by for the Missouri native during his sophomore season. Part of that is due to splitting time with Alex Delton, who left the program to compete for the starting job at conference rival TCU. Since Kleiman’s arrival, the new coaching staff has had great things to say about the work Thompson has put in. If the players K-State surrounds him with at the skill positions pan out, Thompson could be poised for a better-than-expected junior season. That’s a big “if” though.
Running backs: K-State lost the top four running backs from its 2018 depth chart, so there will no doubt be some new faces in the Wildcats’ backfield for 2019. That could create problems for an offense that figures to lean heavily on the run. Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert appears to have a leg up on the starting role, but Klieman’s offenses have been known to use multiple backs at times, so count on seeing some of Joe Ervin, Thomas Grayson and Clyde Price.
Receivers: The Wildcats think they have a pretty solid group of pass catchers for 2019, which would go a long way toward helping Thompson have a good season. Malik Knowles and Dalton Schoen should be the top guys at receiver for K-State this season.
Offensive line: K-State brings back the bulk of its line from last season, but it remains a mostly anonymous group. The loss of All-American Dalton Risner will hurt, and how the Wildcats go about replacing him could dictate if they can be successful on offense in Klieman’s first season.
Defensive line: This could be a strong point for K-State. Kleiman is a defense guy, and he should be pretty hands-on with this side of the ball. The Wildcats return a pair of three-year starters in Trey Dishon and preseason All-Big 12 pick Reggie Walker.
Linebackers: It could be a rough year for the K-State linebackers. KSU lost Justin Hughes to a torn ACL during spring practice, but DeQuan Patton and Elijah Sullivan should provide some experience for this group.
Defensive backs: A.J. Parker and Denzel Goolsby should be the leaders in the secondary, but the Wildcats need to replace players like Eli Walker, Duke Shelley and Kendall Adams.
Blake Lynch was steady as the K-State place-kicker in 2018, and he returns in 2019. Devin Anctil was impressive at times as the Wildcats’ punter last season and he also returns. As for who will return punts and kicks, that is still up the air (no pun intended).