Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters returns to help lead the Wildcats' offense. (Matt Kartozian / USA Today Sports / December 28, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 64: Kansas State
Coach: Bill Snyder (178-90-1, entering 23rd season; 178-90-1 overall)
2013 record: 8-5 (5-4 in Big 12 Conference, fifth in league)
Look back: After back-to-back double-digit win seasons in 2011 (10-3) and 2012 (11-2), Kansas State settled for an eight-win season in 2013. The Wildcats spent much of the season utilizing a two-quarterback system run by Daniel Sams and junior college transfer Jake Waters, but it was the K-State defense that helped the team land in its fourth straight bowl invitation.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: QB Daniel Sams, RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, DE Alauna Finau, DT Chaquil Reed, DB Kip Daily, DB Dorrian Roberts
Top returnees: QB Jake Waters, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Curry Sexton, C B.J. Finney, DE Ryan Mueller, DT Travis Britz, LB Jonathan Truman, FS Dante Barnett
Strengths: Jake Waters will take over the starting quarterback job after Daniel Sams announced his decision to transfer from the school this offseason. Waters passed for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and was the team's top offensive weapon. Waters has the luxury of having many of his receivers back from last season, including wide out Tyler Lockett, who led the team in all-purpose yards (1,859) after tallying 1,262 receiving yards and 583 kickoff return yards. With Curry Sexton (446 yards) also returning, Kansas State brings back players who accounted for more than 50 percent of the receiving yards during the 2013 season.
Ryan Mueller will anchor a defense that ranked among one of the best in the Big 12 last year. Mueller led the Wildcats in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (18.5) and was fifth on the team in total tackles (62). He'll be joined by linebacker Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in total tackles (89).
Weaknesses: The departures of Sams and John Hubert mean Kansas State will be without players who accounted for more than 85 percent of its rushing total from last season. Waters (312 yards) will be the top returning rusher entering the upcoming season, but he'll need help. Senior DeMarcus Robinson (20 yards) and sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett will battle for the starting tailback nod heading into fall camp. The offensive line returns just two starters — left tackle Cody Whitehair and center B.J. Finney — who combined for 26 starts last season.
Kansas State ranked fourth in the Big 12 in pass defense, but much of that production is gone with free safety Dante Barnett the only returning starter from the secondary.
Outlook: Kansas State hasn't had a losing season since 2008 — before Bill Snyder's return to the program — and don't expect the Wildcats to miss out on a bowl opportunity during the upcoming season. There is plenty of talent on the roster to win at least seven games, but it won't be easy to hit double-digit wins with a schedule that features games against Auburn, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Aug. 30 Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 6 at Iowa State
Sept. 18 Auburn