Athlon Sports No. 4

The 2002 Wildcats outscored their opponents by an average of 45–12 and scored 60 or more points in three different games, and most of the main producers are back. Quarterback Ell Roberson ran for 1,032 yards and 16 touchdowns, passed for 1,580 yards and seven scores, and enters 2003 on the Heisman Trophy short list.

Tailback returnee Darren Sproles rolled for 1,465 yards on the ground at 6.2 per carry with 17 touchdowns. First-team All-Big 12 center Nick Leckey spearheads the charge.

Linebacker Terry Pierce's early departure for the pros didn't leave as big a void as had been feared. Junior college transfer Marvin Simmons takes over for Pierce. He's smallish but he runs 4.4 and comes in with a fearsome reputation. Josh Buhl, who led the team in tackles, and Andrew Shull, who racked up 17 tackles behind the line, return at linebacker and end respectively.

The conference schedule opens with a bang — at Texas. The outcome of the finale with Missouri in Manhattan could carry a lot of meaning in the North Division.

No. 3: The 2002 Wildcats finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense.

No 2: They finished second in the nation in scoring offense (44.8 points per game), rushing defense (69.5 yards per game) and total defense (249.0).

No. 1: And led the nation in scoring defense, giving up 11.8 points a game.

2002 results: 11–2 (6–2 Big 12)

2002 Bowl Game: Beat Arizona State 34-27 in Holiday Bowl

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, placekicker

2003 Schedule:

A. 23 California#
A. 30 Troy State
S. 6 McNeese State
S. 13 Massachusetts
S. 20 Marshall
O. 4 at Texas
O. 11 at Oklahoma State
O. 18 Colorado
O. 25 Kansas
N. 1 Baylor
N. 8 at Iowa State
N. 15 at Nebraska
N. 22 Missouri
# at Kansas City

Schedule Analysis: The Wildcats should not have much difficulty with their first five games on the slate. The Wildcats may catch a break playing Texas a week before the Longhorns face Oklahoma. The Wildcats' toughest road game is Oklahoma State, and Kansas State avoids Oklahoma during the regular season. Should things play out as expected, the Wildcats will get their shot at the Sooners in the Big 12 title game.

Final Word: Kansas State has been knocking on the door of the BCS since its inception in 1998, winning 11 games four times in the five-year history of the coalition. But the Wildcats have not been able to hit that massive pay day, playing in two Holiday Bowls, an Alamo Bowl and a Cotton Bowl during those 11-win seasons. This may be the year they finally break through, either through the Big 12 championship game or an at-large bid. The talent is there on both sides of the ball, and Bill Snyder has proven himself one of the best coaches in the nation. The Wildcats are overdue, and they think this is the year they collect.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Big 12 Regional edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Big 12 Regional edition is set to hit newsstands June 6.

#4 Kansas State

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