K-State - Illinois State: Your Gameday Primer

The countdown is on. The first game of a brand new era in K-State football is nearly upon us. With the debut of new head coach Ron Prince comes a bevy of changes and other things for Wildcat fans to keep an eye on. In fact, a shorter list could probably be drawn of items not to look for.

Nevertheless, aside from the intricacies of a new offense, defense and coaching staff, here are few items to keep an eye out for Saturday evening.
Plan on arriving early

For the tailgaters of Wildcat Nation, this one is a no-brainer, but even the folks who regularly on stroll through the gates as keys are jingling for the opening kickoff should plan on getting to Bill Snyder Family Stadium early.

The dedication ceremony honoring Coach Snyder is scheduled to take place around 30 minutes prior to the 6:10 p.m. kickoff. Fans who want to show the man who orchestrated the "Miracle in Manhattan" appreciation for his efforts once more as he stands on the Wagner Field turf should not miss this opportunity.

Along with the pre-game reasons for early arrival, fans should also be prepared to deal with road construction nearly as aggravating as Nebraska's last-second field goal last season. With a major stretch of Denison Avenue, and portions of Anderson Avenue and K-18 currently surrounded by more orange than the guy inside the Syracuse mascot costume, all Wildcat

Faithful should plan their treks to "The Bill" accordingly.

With the release of the latest Wildcat depth chart, it seems the starting lineups are finally set… but don't let that convince you that those starters will be the top performers at their respective positions, especially in the offensive backfield.

Dylan Meier will try to pick up where he left off in 2004 before having his shoulder mangled worse than a jump rope caught in a wood-chipper. He showed strong on-field prowess and a knack for reading defenses and making checks at the line of scrimmage before he went down, so his adjustment to the new offense will be key for K-State.

Cat fans should also look for freshman Josh Freeman to get an opportunity to call the offense. The youngster has been highly touted and mentioned as the future of the Wildcat offense since the day he decided to wear the purple, but what will his role be in 2006? Will he be a traditional No. 2 quarterback, entering only for injury or mop-up duty? Will he be used like Texas' Vince Young and Missouri's Chase Daniel in recent years, taking snaps in designated series each game? Is he going to be tutored in anticipation of taking the reins of the Wildcat offense by the season's end? Prince has stated that he has no interest in a quarterback controversy, but his management of the Freeman situation could play a huge role in the seasons ahead of K-State.

Deeper in the backfield, the Cats' running back situation looks like the quarterback situation did a few months ago – candidates aplenty.

Sixth-year senior Carlos Alsup will be the starter at tailback, looking to gain yards while fighting rumors that he was a member of the Copper Bowl roster in 1993. A pair of newcomers will vie for carries behind the senior.

True-freshman Leon Patton could evoke memories of a former No. 43, who was also listed at 5-feet-7-inches tall and had feet that moved faster than a Rusty's customer at last call. Junior college transfer James Johnson may have to pay his dues to earn more playing time after joining the squad late for pre-season practices, but he could be flashing his gold-toothed grin if he speed earns him a trip to paydirt.

After sitting out the opener with a suspension relating to an off-field incident that happened in 2005, Thomas Clayton will re-join the active roster and look to return to the form that had him leading the nation in rushing early last season. Sophomore Parrish Fisher could also be a part of the mix later on in the season, if his rehabilitation from an off-season knee injury goes well.

New faces and new places all around.

Fans glancing at the new depth chart may have end up feeling like a newcomer to Manhattan at the Bluemont-Ft. Riley Boulevard intersection – lost and confused.

Marcus Watts, a standout safety in 2005, is listed as a backup? As are Quentin Echols and Junior Moran, two 2005 starting defensive tackles? And safety-turned-outside-linebacker Maurice Mack is now Zach Diles' backup in the middle? What about on offense, where 2005 starting guard John Hafferty is now the No. 2 center, and Victor Mann's successor at fullback is smaller than the Wildcats' starting place-kicker?

Answers to most of these questions will play out during the season, but some can be addressed as a matter of assumption.

Word is that Andrew Erker, who currently is listed at the top free safety, has been impressive in workouts thus far. Nevertheless, one could also assume that Watts, recovering from a dislocated hip that saw him carted off the field against Missouri in 2005, will be brought along cautiously as a safety (no pun intended) precaution.

At fullback, K-State faithful should not be thrown by the size (or lack thereof) of starter John McCardle. The 5-foot-8, 200-lbs., sophomore will not be operating in the traditional fullback role that saw Mann primarily leading runners through a hole. Granted, he will see that duty, but one should expect to see McCardle often in motion and lining up in the backfield, at an end position, and even in the slot as he occupies a H-back role.

Overall, Wildcat fans should enjoy Saturday for the same reasons they did the first time they saw K-State on the gridiron, whether it was years ago when winning seasons seemed light-years away, or just last season. You can expect some new traditions to be blended with the old. You should not be surprised if you seem some growing pains. No matter what happens, remember, "Faithful to our colors, we will ever be. Fighting, ever fighting, for a Wildcat victory. Go State!"

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