The 2021 season produced two new title contenders in the Big 12 Conference as Baylor and Oklahoma State faced off in the Big 12 Championship Game. The conference announced plans to replace Texas and Oklahoma in 2025 by adding Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and BYU in 2023. The 2022 season will be the last season of the Big 12 Conference as it’s been known for the last decade.
There will inevitably be more seismic shifts this season after UCLA and USC announced intentions to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference. Whether the Big 12 adds more schools or has more members poached by other conferences remains to be seen, but this will be the last year with just 10 member institutions in the conference. Next up in the Big 12 preseason power rankings is the Kansas State Wildcats. You can read previous installments of this series below.
Kansas State has been somewhat of a preseason media darling despite finishing last season with a 8-5 record. The Texas Bowl win over LSU was nice, even if the Tigers were playing a wide receiver at quarterback. That still doesn’t explain all the preseason hype in Manhattan.
Coach Chris Klieman hammered the transfer portal and promoted Collin Klein to offensive coordinator in the offseason. Klieman has also had the time to develop the roster, cultivate relationships and instill his values on this team. He is no longer the new coach in town. There has been enough improvement to warrant excitement, but with that excitement comes expectations. We’re about to find out if Klieman and the Wildcats are for real or not.
Klein told The Athletic’s Max Olson that Kansas State’s offense will pick up the pace after ranking last in offensive plays per game last season. Will that change and the new additions be enough to vault Kansas State to the top of the Big 12 standings? Finishing with a winning record in conference play would be enough improvement for this year, but fans in Manhattan will want more progress. The recruiting class wasn’t particularly impressive as the Wildcats didn’t land a player ranked in the top 500 and finished ninth in the Big 12. Will the transfer additions and last seasons returners be enough?
The big name addition in the transfer portal is former Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez. It’s rare that a team can add a quarterback with four years of starting experience, but that is exactly what Klieman was able to do with the addition of Martinez. Although Nebraska didn’t exactly shine on the gridiron with Martinez at the helm, Kansas State will offer more playmakers for Martinez to utilize on the offensive side of the football.
Chief among those playmakers is standout running back Deuce Vaughn. Despite his stature, Vaughn is among the most impressive returning running backs in the country. Vaughn rushed for over 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns last season to make him a consensus All-American.
The depth behind Vaughn is thin after several players left via the transfer portal, so Klieman needs to find a playmaker to give Vaughn a break when he needs it. Kansas State will want Vaughn as fresh as possible for a stretch of important games in late October and early November.
The receiving corps is also a deep group that boasts a wealth of experience. Malik Knowles should have a standout season and the Wildcats also landed Ole Miss transfer Jadon Jackson. Phillip Brooks, Chabastin Taylor and Kade Warner return to give Martinez a group of receivers that are comfortable sharing the field together. RJ Garcia II also figures to play a role after a strong spring ball performance.
On the offensive line, Kansas State has a strong pair of tackles, but lack experience on the interior. Cooper Beebe is one of the best returning tackles in all of college football and Christian Duffie has plenty of experience as well. K-State didn’t land any impact transfers to help out the interior offensive line, but according to The Athletic’s Max Olson, Klieman likes Taylor Poitier. That means Poitier, who was out with an injury all of last season, will probably start at one of the two guard spots.
Andrew Leingang and KT Leveston will compete for the other guard spot. Hayden Gillum and Hadley Panzer will compete at center. Ultimately, Klieman will need to figure out which group of five players gives his team the best chance to win. Beebe and Duffie will be included in that group, and Poitier likely will be as well.
Kansas State has some young talent returning on the defensive line. The Wildcats should be good up front with co-Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Felix Anudike- Uzomah returning. Nate Matlack finished last season on a high note and returns this year as well. Eli Huggins will start at nose guard in the 3-3-5 scheme with more than 20 starts in his career.
Daniel Green will lead the linebacking corps after leading the team in tackles last season. Nebraska transfer Will Honas figures to play a large role this fall, while Austin Moore and Nick Allen should also get significant reps. Khalid Duke returns from injury and has been working with the linebackers after previously playing on the defensive line, according to The Athletic’s Max Olson. Missouri transfer and former quarterback Shawn Robinson will get his chance to prove himself this fall as well.
The secondary is the area of most concern on the defensive side of the football. Cornerbacks Ekow Boye- Doe and Julius Brents return and a trio of Omar Daniels, Justice Clemons and Jordan Wright should provide some depth at the position.
Safety is a total question mark after four seniors graduated from the position. TJ Smith will start after starting seven games last season, but the other two positions are up for grabs. Arizona transfer Javione Carr will compete with Kobe Savage, Josh Hayes and Cincere Mason for the two remaining starting safety spots.
The Wildcats will take on Robinson’s former SEC team, Missouri, in non-conference play. K-State also faces South Dakota and Tulane before getting into Big 12 play. After opening conference play with a road game against Oklahoma, the schedule eases up before a critical three game stretch. Kansas State gets Oklahoma State for homecoming on Oct. 29 before facing Texas at home on Nov. 5 and Baylor on the road on Nov. 12. Winning one of those three games will be important for Kansas State.
Kansas State Wildcats Schedule 2022
|September 3||South Dakota||W|
|September 24||@ Oklahoma||W|
|October 1||Texas Tech||W|
|October 8||@ Iowa State||W|
|October 22||@ TCU||L|
|October 29||Oklahoma State||L|
|November 12||@ Baylor||L|
|November 19||@ West Virginia||W|
|Overall Record||9-3 (6-3)|
I think Texas will lose a game its favored in and Kansas State on the road seems like a trap game for the Longhorns. Or, Texas could fold by this time of the year, which also bodes well for Kansas State. On the other hand, the Wildcats were one of the few teams Texas did beat in conference play in 2021. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor seem to be a class above Kansas State, but a 9-3 season with a potential for a good bowl win to give the Wildcats 10 wins would absolutely be considered a successful year in Manhattan.
Disclaimer: I will be posting my picks weekly on Tallysight once again this year. This is just my best guess as of July and these picks are subject to change once I see what actually ends up playing out on the field.