Big XII Preview: Kansas State

See inside for Tony Sellars' preseason look at Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats.

For the next few weeks, OUInsider Staff Writer Tony Sellars will be previewing all of the Big 12 Football teams for the upcoming season. We start the series with the Kansas State Wildcats.

The Wildcats finished in a last-place tie in the North last season en route to a 4-7 season, the worst since Bill Snyder's first year in 1989. And to add to the bad news, running back Darren Sproles has moved on to the NFL, leaving the K-State offensive cupboard bare.

Replacing a back of Sproles' caliber is never easy, and it is doubtful that the contenders can come anywhere near his production. The likely replacements will be junior Thomas Clayton (6-2, 210) and senior Carlos Alsup (6-1, 210). Clayton was the backup last season after transferring from Florida State and saw very little field time. Alsup was hurt early last season, and missed most of the year with an ACL tear. He has tallied only 24 carries for 81 yards in his three seasons at Kansas State. Neither player has scored a touchdown in their collegiate careers.

Quarterbacking duties will fall on often-injured Dylan Meier, who participated sparingly in spring drills, or junior Allen Webb, who is more comfortable running than throwing.

Meier, a junior, is coming off shoulder surgery, but when he is healthy, he gives to Wildcats a decent threat as both a runner and passer. Last season, Meier threw for nine touchdowns and ran for six. This year, the coaching staff would probably like to see him run less and throw more, since wide receiver is one of the few areas where Kansas State has depth on the offensive side of the ball. Look for K-State to use more four receiver sets to take advantage of that experience this season.

Webb, also a junior, is a better runner than Meier, but not as good a passer. He had a good spring in Meier's absence, but Meier needs to remain the starter for Kansas State to have any success this season. Look for both quarterbacks to get significant playing time this year due to Meier's inability to stay healthy and the propensity for both quarterbacks to run.

The offensive line is also inexperienced, with RT Jerome Clary, a 6-7, 300 senior from Mansfield, TX, the only returning starter. Coaches do have high hopes for sophomore guard John Hafferty (6-3, 305). Hafferty was the only true freshman to earn playing time for the Wildcats last season. How fast the rest of the line comes together may determine if Meier is able to stay healthy for an entire season.

Even more than the development of the offensive line, the improvement of the defense holds the key to any hopes of a winning season at Kansas State. Last year, the Wildcats gave up at least three touchdowns in every game last season and surrendered an average of more than 30 points a game. According to Kansas State radio play-by-play man Wyatt Thompson, there are signs that better days are ahead.

"The coaches are hoping for better leadership, and more team speed," said Thompson. ."I think CB Kyle Williams (6-1, 195 JR from Navarro (TX) JC who redshirted last season) and FS Marcus Watts (6-2, 180 SO) will help with the speed issue on defense."

All in all, this doesn't look like the year that Kansas State will return to form. With all the uncertainties faced on both offense and defense, it will be a struggle for the Wildcats to think about a .500 or better finish this year.

9/3 Florida International
9/10 at Marshall
9/24 North Texas
10/1 at Oklahoma
10/8 Kansas
10/15 at Texas Tech
10/22 Texas A&M
10/29 Colorado
11/5 at Iowa State
11/12 at Nebraska
11/19 Missouri.

With no established running threat, more pressure will be put on injury-prone quarterback Dylan Meier. Wide receivers Jermaine Moreira, Yamon Figurs and Davin Dennis combined for 93 catches last season and they will need to step up their production even more to compensate for the inexperienced running backs. The offensive line is also a question mark, making it hard to see any great improvement for the Wildcats this year . GRADE - C-

Gone are the days when Kansas State finished in the Top 10 nationally in defense but surely the Wildcats cannot be as bad as they were last season. As usual, the linebackers should be strong with veterans Brandon Archer, Ted Sims and Matt Butler returning. But unless the young secondary can stop opponents passing games, it will be hard for the Wildcats to have much success. GRADE- C

Sproles carried the load there as well, but Figurs and Moreira are more than capable return men. The Wildcats have an up and coming punter in sophomore Tim Reyer, who averaged over 42 yards a kick in limited action last year. He should get a lot of work this season. Kansas State does not have a place kicker with any experience, so field goals could be an early-season adventure. GRADE - C

Although the Big 12 North will be weak again this year, it's hard to see Kansas State being a factor. And it's also hard to see them finishing .500 Predicted record : 5-6

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