The Kansas State Wildcats begin a new era this season as Hall of Fame Head Coach Bill Snyder retired last December and Athletic Director Gene Taylor hired his former coach at North Dakota State, Chris Klieman.
Klieman is the 35th head football coach in Kansas State history as he led ND State to four national championships in his five years.
He was 69-6 in the five years winning titles in his first and second years, while only getting to the semifinals his third year. He won his third title in 2017 as the team went 14-1 and last season they were 15-0 and won their games by nearly 30 points a game.
Before becoming the head coach for the Bison he was an assistant for three years at the school, and before that five years at Northern Iowa where the Waterloo, Iowa, native graduated from.
Ben Leber, a former Wildcat linebacker under Snyder, had this to say about the hire, "Living in Minneapolis, I get to see and hear a lot about NDSU football, and I know Coach Klieman is a perfect fit for Kansas State.
"He had big shoes to fill from Coach Bohl and all he did was win four National Championships. He’s a tremendous builder of men and football players, and I’m proud to know the program will be in good hands."
The top two assistants are offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and on the defensive side of the ball Scott Hazelton is the coordinator.
Messingham is a 29-year coaching veteran who was the offensive coordinator the last two years at NDSU. The North Dakota State offense was in the top ten in the nation both years in both scoring and rushing.
Two years ago they were 4th in passing efficiency and last year they were second. He also coached at Iowa State from 2009 – 2013 and Indiana University in 2014 and 2015.
Hazelton is a 23-year coaching veteran as he has both NFL and collegiate experience. Hazelton spent the last two years as defensive coordinator at Wyoming and both years his defense was ranked in the top 25 national in total defense and in the top 30 in scoring.
His 2017 defense was the top team in the nation in forcing turnovers as the had a national best 18 fumble recoveries and they were second in interceptions with 20.
Before going to Wyoming he was a linebacker coach for three years for the Jacksonville Jaguars and also coached at Nevada and Southern Cal.
The Wildcats will have to improve an offense that a year ago was nauseating at times as they finished 10th in the Big 12 in scoring at 22.5 points, total offense gaining only 344.7 yards, and also last in passing at only 162 yards a game.
K-State was third in rushing gaining a little over 182 yards a game. The Wildcats do return some experience as 13 players have combined for 170 career starts, including eight players who started in at least six games in last year.
Leading the offense this year will be Skylar Thompson (6-2, 212, Jr.) who enters this season ranked 5th in completion percentage and 9th in passing efficiency.
He started 10 games last season and threw for nine touchdowns and rushed for five more. He will be joined in the backfield by two senior transfers in James Gilbert (5-9, 198) from Ball State or Jordon Brown (5-11, 220) from North Carolina.
Gilbert has totaled 2,806 career rushing yards and last year started 10 games and had659 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Brown had 1,005 career rushing yards and last year played in 11 games and had 347 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Harry Trotter (5-11, 202, Jr.) will also get some carries this year as the Wildcats will go with the running back by committee approach. Also in Messingham’s offense the full back gets a lot of playing time so look for Luke Sowa (6-3, 238, Sr.), true freshman Jax Dineen (5-10, 242) or Mason Barta (6-1, 236, So.) or one of the tight ends to see extended playing time at this position.
The receiving corps should be led by Dalton Schoen (6-1, 209, Sr.) who started 11 games last year and averaged 18 yards a catch and was second on the team with 32 receptions.
Also probably starting will be Wykeen Gill (5-10, 181, Jr.) who played in 10 games last year and Malik Knowles (6-2, 186, Fr.-RS) played in four games last season and had 10 catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
A couple other players will probably see the field will be Joshua Youngblood (5-10, 180, Fr.-HS) and Chabastin Taylor (6-4, 223, So.). This offense will also use tight ends and not just for blocking and Nick Lenners (6-5, 254, So.) should be the starter after missing most of last year with an injury and Blaise Gammon (6-7, 250, Sr.).
The offensive line could be a strength of this team and for sure it will be a senior-dominated bunch as these four players are pretty much sure to start in Nick Kaltmayer (6-8, 311, Sr.), Tyler Mitchell (6-5, 317, Sr.), Adam Holtorf (6-4, 302, Sr.), and Scott Frantz (6-5, 303, Sr.). Kaltmayer was a 1st team academic All-Big 12 last year and played in all 12 games.
Mitchell was also a 1st team academic All-Big 12 last year and started 11 games the first four at left guard and the last seven at right tackle.
Holtorf is a two-time 1st team academic All-Big 12 player as he started every game last year at center and again is on the Rimington Trophy watch list.
Frantz is a three-time 1st team academic All-Big 12 member and has started all 38 games over the last three years.
The last spot on the line will go to either Evan Curl (6-5, 295, Sr.) or Josh Rivas (6-6, 323, So.).
The K-State defense finished third in the Big 12 in scoring defense last year giving up 25.4 points and fourth in total defense as they allowed 403.4 yards.
Sixteen players on defense return with a combined 173 career starts and 11 returners started in at least half of the games last season. The strength on this side of the ball will probably be up front as the projected starters all have starting experience.
On the outside will be led by Reggie Walker (6-2, 250, Sr.) and Wyatt Hubert (6-3, 258, So.). Backing them up will be Kyle Ball (6-2, 250, Sr.) and Bronson Massie (6-4, 243, Jr.).
Walker played in every game last year and started 11 of them and finished with 35 tackles, 12 1/2 for loss with 7 1/2. Hubert started in seven games and was named Freshman All-American by USA Today, he had 34 tackles, 8 1/2 for loss and 4 1/2 sacks.
Ball played in 10 games last year with six starts and had four tackles with two sacks. Massie played in all 12 games and had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. In the middle of the d-line will be Trey Dishon (6-2, 311, Sr.) and Joe Davies (6-3, 285, Sr.) with Jordan Mittie (6-3, 284, Sr.) and Drew Wiley (6-4, 300, Jr.) backing them up.
Dishon started all 12 games last year and had a career-high 26 including two for a loss. Davies had five starts, including the final four games, and played in all the rest of the games.
Mittie had 17 tackles last year and played in every game with seven starts. The starting linebackers will probably be Da’Quan Patton (6-1, 227, Sr.) on the weak side and Elijah Sullivan (6-0, 210, Sr.) in the middle. Patton started all 12 games last year with a team-high 70 tackles while Sullivan only played in three games due to injury and started once.
Backing those two up will be Cody Fletcher (6-2, 219, Jr.) when he returns from an injury in a few weeks and Daniel Green (6-2, 226, Fr.-RS) who redshirted last year, but was a highly rated recruit. This position is the area with the least amount of depth as projected starter Justin Hughes suffered a season ending injury during spring ball. The players who are going to start at cornerback are AJ Parker (5-11, 178, Jr.) and Walter Neil Jr. (5-9, 176, Jr.). Parker started all 12 games last year and finished 4th on the team with 40 tackles and he also had two interceptions.
Neal had eight starts last year with 40 tackles. The backups are Kevion McGee (5-10, 187, Sr.) and Lance Robinson (5-10, 194, Fr.-RS). The nickel back spot is still a tossup but Jahron McPherson (6-1, 197, Jr.) may have the lead over Johnathan Durham (6-0, 195, Sr). McPherson played in 10 games last year with a start while Durham had six starts including the last four games at cornerback.
The free safety will be Denzel Goolsby (5-11, 204, Sr.) will be a three-year starter who only played seven games last year due to injury.
The strong safety will be Wayne Jones (6-0, 205, Fr.-RS) who played in two games last year to preserve his redshirt. Backing those two up will probably be Jonathan Alexander (6-2, 213, Jr.) or McPherson.