The Kansas State Wildcats finished their 2008 season with an unimpressive 5-7 record, which resulted in head coach Ron Prince getting the axe in order to bring back Kansas State coaching legend Bill Snyder. Kansas State lost their talented quarterback Josh Freeman to the NFL so many people are skeptical that they can improve on last years' disappointment. How will the Wildcats fare in 2009 with Snyder back at the helm? Let's see what kind of challenge Kansas State will provide to the Tigers late in the season in Manhattan.
This has been a interesting position battle for the Wildcats during this spring and summer and it really has not resolved itself yet, just 9 days before kickoff. Carson Coffman was figured to be the favorite to take over for Josh Freeman this season because of his experience in the Kansas State system, but South Florida transfer Grant Gregory has impressed coaches enough for them to call the battle a tie as of now. Either way, the Wildcats will start someone without starting experience this year and this could be a rough spot for them. I think Coffman will end up starting because he has better size and he knows the system, so let's preview him. Standing at 6-4, the junior has played well during mop up time, but he hasn't done anything to stand out this spring and people think that his talent could be limited so this position is shaky for the Wildcats no matter what.
The player returning with the most experience is senior Keithen Valentine who lost his starting job at the beginning of last season because he played so poorly in non-conference games. The Wildcats don't have any real proven talent here, which could hurt the offense a lot because without a reliable ground attack, the inexperienced quarterback will have way more pressure to make plays. Hopefully coming to save the day is Daniel Thomas. This junior was recruited as a quarterback from junior college, but Snyder thought he could be more useful as a running back for the ‘Cats, so Thomas has made the change this summer. All reports are that he is impressing with his athleticism and should be a key part of a running game full of questions.
Brandon Banks was Kansas State's most productive receiving target last year, catching 67 balls for just over 1,000 yards. The troubling thing is that he measures in at 5-7 and weighs a feathery 150 pounds, so will he be a consistent number one target for the offense this season? He was a bit inconsistent last year, but has big play potential because of his superb straight-line speed. Lamark Brown will be important for the offense this year if they want to establish a diverse passing game. Brown stands at 6-3 and showed good receiving skills as a running back last year. If he can be a reliable big target for the offense, it could add another dimension to a shaky offense. Attrail Snipes could be a good target for the ‘Cats too after transferring from JuCo a year ago. His size is adequate and his speed is excellent, so he will be a good 2nd or 3rd target for the offense. This unit is full of a lot of nice players, so the QB (whoever it is) wont be able to blame it on these guys for not having a good season.
Nick Stringer will man the all important left tackle spot this year for the Wildcats, and he will probably do a very good job. Brock Unruh was supposed to be another key member of this line, but he has been lost for the year because of an injury. Taking his place will be Eric Benoit, a strong player on the inside that should hold his own. The rest of the line will look up to Stringer because of his talent, leadership and experience. Overall, this line should end up being pretty solid, and they will have to be if the ‘Cats want to have any offense at all.
6-6 sophomore defensive end Brandon Harold was supposed to be the great hope for the Kansas State defense, but reports are coming out recently that he is injured and could be lost for a while. Even so, Harold will probably be back for the Mizzou game, so let's look at it like he is going be a part of the team. Along with Harold, Eric Childs figures to be another good player at defensive end because of his athleticism even though he hasn't been too productive in previous seasons. Jeffery Fitzgerald will be at interesting athletic talent at defensive tackle after transferring from Virginia a year ago. This group should be able to make plays against any offensive line and they should be the strength of the defense.
This group is fairly experienced, but their best player has to be sophomore Alex Hrebec. The 5-11 linebacker recorded 49 tackles in his freshman season last year and should play a bigger role on the defense this year. Ulla Pomele will be a solid but not spectacular player for the Wildcats this season, a year after recording 47 tackles. John Houlik is experienced at linebacker and should play the same kind of role as Pomele, giving the ‘Cats a fairly solid set of backers for this season. This unit will not provide any "wow" moments this year, but they will get the job done and not allow a lot of big plays. Sadly for Kansas Sate, there doesn't seem to be much room for improvement (besides Hrebec, everyone is an upperclassmen).
Joshua Moore was impressive last season; breaking up 12 passes while recording 3 interceptions and providing a shutdown type element to the defense. Expect him to be one of the better corners in the Big XII this season. Senior Courtney Herndon is the expected starter at strong safety this year and will be one of the best plamakers on this defense because of his athleticism and big hit ability. Tysyn Hartman, a former QB, will start at free safety as a sophomore. He impressed last season in his freshman year as a huge, athletic player (6-3) in the secondary.
A lot of things have to go right for the Wildcats this season because of the questions on the offensive side of the ball. For some reason, most experts think that the ‘Cats will make a bowl game this year, but I don't really see it. The quarterback situation is worrisome and the rest of the team isn't really going to make up for that. We'll see how this game looks once we get to November 14th when the Tigers travel to Manhattan, though.