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August 1, 2012
In almost every Kansas State game in 2011, the Wildcat's season teetered on the edge of failure and unbelievable success.
The pride of Manhattan was picked to finish third from last in the Big 12 by the media before the beginning of the 2011 season, yet so many things fell in place that allowed the Wildcats to finish with a 10-3 (7-2) record which was good enough for 2nd place in the Big 12 and a berth to the Cotton Bowl, losing to Arkansas 29-16.
It took a last minute touchdown against Eastern Kentucky in the first game of the season to jumpstart the team. Then, an overturned Miami touchdown on the final drive of the game kept the good times rolling. Five conference wins for KSU would be decided by one-possession margins.
It's uncertain, even to coach Bill Snyder, what caused these bounces to go the right way for the Wildcats. The underdog mentality could have instilled itself in the players - especially breakout quarterback Collin Klein - but Snyder said he wasn't sure about that. Snyder also said the leadership on his team is at an all-time high during his time back in Manhattan, which could also be a factor.
If any of those reasons hold some truth, the tables are turned for Kanas State heading into the 2012 season.
Everyone knows the Wildcats hold some firepower now and it will come as no surprise when they present a challenge to any Big 12 team.
But like a starting pitcher going through the lineup for a second time in the game, has the Big 12 seen Kansas State's best stuff and will have a better game plan for the Wildcats?
The Kansas State offense lives and breathes around Klein, who established himself as one of the conference's best rushers in 2011. In fact, he led the Big 12 in rushing attempts last season with 317 and set a new FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27.
Many around the program have said Klein has put an emphasis on working to improve his throwing abilities and will be much more of a duel-threat in 2012. It's that work ethic that did not make Klein's 2011 performance a surprise for Snyder.
"Collin is a wonderful young person," Snyder said at the Big 12 media days. "He has made tremendous improvement during his time in the program. And it's happened because of the quality of person that Collin is. Collin is one of those young guys truly committed not just lip service to it, he's truly committed to becoming better every single day of his life in all facets of his life, very faith‑based young guy and works diligently to improve his plight with the state every day."
Klein's outside weapons begin with senior wide receiver Chris Harper, who pulled in 40 catches for 547 yards in 2011. Next is Tyler Lockett who made an instant impact as a true freshman last year with 18 catches for 246 yards. Lockett is coming off an injury that kept him out of the final four games of the season, but Snyder said he is 100 percent recovered. Lockett did not participate in the Wildcat's spring game due to a sore hamstring, however.
"So the answer, I guess, is that he's recovered fully, and I think is having a productive summer as well and should be well prepared to play," Snyder said.
As was the case last season, the running back corps will be strong again to provide Klein a break from his rushing endeavors, led by John Hubert, who held the starting position in 2011.
Senior Travis Tannahill is also a threat at tight end, proving his clutch abilities with several key plays in 2011.
The Wildcats return two starters on the offensive line, providing good experience, but have dealt with controversy surrounding senior LT Manase Foketi throughout the summer. Foketi remains off the preseason roster after being denied a request to transfer out of Kansas State, despite having graduated from the school. It is uncertain what Foketi's current status is.
If Kansas State's offense remains as potent as it was in 2011, its defense does not need to be spectacular to be a dangerous all-around team.
However, it has the returning players to be much more than average this season.
The defense centers around linebacker Arthur Brown, who won Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors after transferring from Miami. Brown also finished as a Bednarik Award semifinalist.
Brown held one of the season's top highlights when he picked off Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011, setting up Kansas State's game winning field goal. The interception was RGIII's only second-half pick all year.
At cornerback, Nigel Malone set a school record for season interceptions in 2011 with 7 and was a Thorpe Award semifinalist.
In the Big 12, it's all about defending the pass, which can be a daunting task with the offensive talent present in the conference, Snyder said.
"I can't put it on a scale of how complex it is and how difficult it is other than to say it is extremely difficult," Snyder said. "Statistically you look at the passing staffs in the conference, and they're extremely significant.
You look at defensive staffs in the Big 12 Conference, and they're significant in the other way as it relates to defending against the pass. We certainly had our issues with that as well. So quality players and good systems really make it a very complex preparation week in and week out. Good football teams, awfully good players."
How well can Klein throw?
Big 12 teams will be well prepared to stuff his attack and Kansas State has a very undersized unit of running backs that won't add much power to the ground game.
TCU's 4-2-5 defense will be an interesting test for Klein, as it will be easier to contain the quarterback with two walked-up safeties.
TCU has seldom had trouble defending the running game. Even last season, considered to be a down year for the Frog defense, its troubles in losses to Baylor and SMU were defending the vertical pass.
If Kansas State cannot get the pass game going, it could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
On offense, as long as TCU quarterback Casey Pachall makes good decisions and the team strays from turnovers, I don't think gaining yards will be an issue.
TCU is 3-2-0 against Kansas State, last meeting in 1986 for a 35-22 TCU win.