Kansas State Wildcats
Head Coach: Chris Klieman
2018 Record: 5-7, 3-6 Conference
O/U 5.5 Wins (O +110; U -140)
National Title: +22500
Bill Snyder is out, and the Kansas State Wildcats begin a new era. Chris Klieman takes over as head coach after great success with North Dakota State, including four FCS championships in five seasons. K-State seems to be transitioning to Klieman just fine, and his “win the dang day” phrase has caught on in a big way, but how much actual success will this translate to for the Wildcats? Being well-liked is one thing, but winning football games is another and he has a tough challenge ahead of him with Vegas oddsmakers setting the over/under at 5.5 wins for the Wildcats in 2019.
With Snyder leaving, the team also has a new offensive coordinator in Courtney Messingham. The team needs a revamp. It averaged just 22.5 points per game last year, ranking at the cellar of the Big 12. Its offense generated just 334.7 yards per game, and it lost all four of its top running backs from last season, including Alex Barnes who led the conference in rushing as a junior. Skylar Thompson returns at quarterback, and he has a solid offensive line in front of him, with enough good receiving options that the passing game should at least be decent.
Thompson’s best receivers include Isaiah Zuber, Dalton Schoen, and Malik Knowles. The bigger issue will be who Thompson hands it off to. The offense typically is run-heavy, so this is no small issue, and James Gilbert will enter his senior season as the primary option. Gilbert rushed for 2,806 yards at Ball State and was landed as a graduate transfer in Messingham’s first week. He has the experience and talent, but behind him, the depth is quite scarce. He had 12 touchdowns and 1,332 yards in 2016, and Klieman typically likes to use a good number of running backs. So, the Wildcats will hope that Thomas Grayson, Clyde Price, and Joe Ervin are all better than expected, or that one emerges as a big-time No. 2 rusher.
Klieman is a defensive-minded coach. He will do plenty of defensive coordinating. The Wildcats should be more aggressive due to both him and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. The corners will play close to the line of scrimmage and the linebacking group will blitz more often.
Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker lead the Wildcats up front, and both are three-year starters on the DL who should have good senior seasons.
At linebacker, things are dicier. Daquan Patton and Elijah Sullivan are both proven options, but losing Justin Hughes to an ACL injury in spring was a major blow. The secondary is also riddled with questions, and Denzel Goolsby and AJ Parker both must take the lead of a new group mostly. Walter Neil Jr. is a good option at nickel back. K-State defended the run well last year, but it allowed 245.8 passing yards per game. KSU also averaged just 5.2 yards per play and allowed 6.0; so that -0.8 margin ranked No. 103 in the nation while also being the worst margin in the Big 12.
The Wildcats will allow every assistant coach on the staff to take a hand in calling special teams. Blake Lynch returns at placekicker after hitting 14 of 16 field goals last year in his sophomore season. Devin Anctil is the punter and had some nice punts last year. Zuber handled kick off returns last year, but the Wildcats may audition several others for that role this year with some good skill players who might surprise.
Snyder’s departure will theme this season to a degree as Wildcat fans adjust to a new coaching regime that will certainly vary things from the Snyder era. The Wildcats have several key departures in players to account for, as well. The team has an outside chance at a bowl, but it also has its work cut out for it just to best last season’s five wins. Temper expectations.
Prediction: 5 wins (under)