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Big 12 Media Day Football

Kansas State coach Chris Klieman speaks during Big 12 Conference Media Day last year in Arlington, Texas.

The first year of Chris Klieman’s tenure as Kansas State’s football coach was a resounding success. Klieman rose from Football Championship Subdivision North Dakota State, where he won four FCS national titles, to lead the Wildcats to a three-win improvement from 2018 and a berth in the Liberty Bowl.

Yet one of the blemishes on KSU’s 8-5 campaign in 2019 came at the hands of an Old Gold and Blue-clad foe.

One of Kansas State’s five losses was courtesy of West Virginia University and another first-year head coach, Neal Brown. The Mountaineers knocked the Wildcats out of the national rankings thanks to new starting quarterback Jarret Doege’s three passing touchdowns in a 24-20 WVU win.

This year, the Wildcats won’t have to wait until November to face West Virginia. The Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with the Wildcats in Morgantown on Sept. 26. Kansas State wants to take a step forward in Klieman’s second season, but he’ll have to replace a lot of important pieces for that to happen.

K-State’s offense finished in the top half of the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring offense, ending at No. 60 with 29.6 points per game. And the Wildcats will get another year from starting quarterback Skylar Thompson. The dual threat threw for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for 405 yards and 11 more touchdowns.

Thompson will have a completely different cast of characters in front of him. The Wildcats must replace the entire starting offensive line.

That includes 2019 All-Big 12 second-teamer Scott Frantz and honorable mention recipients Nick Kaltmayer and Adam Holtorf. The anchor of the 2020 offensive line will be junior Josh Rivas, who was named second-team All-Big 12 by the Associated Press and played in all 13 games as a regular in the guard rotation.

The Wildcats also are in the market for featured running backs. The team’s top two, James Gilbert and Jordon Brown, both gradutated. They took with them 1,117 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from last season. K-State’s leading returning rusher actually is Thompson with his 405 yards, so he’ll be looking for some help. That could come in the form of Tyler Burns or Harry Trotter. Burns averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns in limited attempts, while Trotter was fourth on the team with 263 rushing yards and three scores.

Kansas State loses leading receiver Dalton Schoen, but returns its next five leading receivers including sophomore Malik Knowles (27 catches, 397yards, three touchdowns). The Wildcats could also see more out of sophomore Josh Youngblood. He caught just nine passes for 73 yards last season, but he was the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year after running three kickoffs back for touchdowns.

Defensively, Kansas State loses some talent from 2019, needing to replace five full-time starters. That includes two of their top three tacklers, defensive back Denzel Goolsby and linebacker Da’Quan Patton, two of their top three sack producers, defensive linemen Kyle Ball and Trey Dishon, two of their top three interception producers and four of their top five on the tackles for loss list.

What Kansas State does have coming back is one of the best defensive players in the Big 12. Junior defensive lineman Wyatt Hubert was an All-Big 12 first team pick in 2019, leading the team in both sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (12½). All-Big 12 honorable mention Reggie Walker will be there to help him in the trenches. Leading tackler Elijah Sullivan also returns to anchor the linebacker corps.

The secondary returns three of its five starters in K-State’s 4-2-5 scheme, and will get some help from incoming Minnesota transfer Kiondre Thomas, who started four games for the Golden Gophers last season.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.