To contextualize what he must do to vault Kansas State into the College Football Playoff, quarterback Jake Waters can cast an eye to the program's strapping new assistant director of recruiting and defensive quality control: Collin Klein, the 6'5" dual-threat signal-caller who piled up 37 total touchdowns and 3,380 total yards en route to a third-place finish in 2012 Heisman Trophy balloting. There may be less certainty at tailback and in the defensive front. But only exceptional, multifaceted production from Waters, now the full-time quarterback after sharing duties in '13, will nudge the Wildcats into the nation's elite.
Waters completed 61.2% of his passes for 2,149 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013. The since-transferred Daniel Sams, though, produced 807 yards as the Wildcats' designated running quarterback. Can Waters compensate? The Wildcats ranked seventh nationally in third-down conversions last season, moving the chains 50 percent of the time. Imagine what an offense featuring receiver Tyler Lockett (Big 12-best 105 yards receiving per game) can do with an even more poised Waters under center.
A schedule featuring Auburn in September offers a path to playoff consideration. To manage it, Kansas State needs a comprehensive ground game after losing its top two rushers, as well as production from four viable new starters in the front seven to complement reigning Big 12 defensive lineman of the year Ryan Mueller (11.5 sacks in 2013).
Opposing coach's take
They'll be formidable because they're well-coached. The line tightens or widens splits based on how they run or where they run. Our defense tried to study film and figure it out, and we still couldn't stop them. Jake Waters has to prove that he can stand in the pocket and convert a third-down pass when everyone in the ballpark know he's going to throw it. You have to decide whether to let [Tyler Lockett] get the ball or if you're going to find a way to bracket him.
Their defense was very sound. You look at them on film and say, 'They don't do a lot.' But, boy, they tackle, and they blitz at the right time. Ryan Mueller, the end, is the hardest-playing guy I've seen on film in a long time. His motor is on Red Bull. In the second they're a big zone team, so they need to be formidable up front but they only have four of their front seven coming back.
In his career at Kansas State, running back DeMarcus Robinson has carried the ball 11 times for 45 yards. Now a 5'7", 209-pound senior, he'll be asked to step up on a team that needs someone to churn out yards. It's imperative that Robinson prove himself not only to establish offensive balance, but also to afford promising freshman back Dalvin Warmack the chance to assimilate with minimal pressure.
Kansas State's season might not be defined solely by Auburn's visit on Sept. 18, but the Wildcats' confidence could hinge on it. Beat the national runner-ups from last season and Snyder's club could have the swagger to navigate difficult road games at Oklahoma (Oct. 18) and Baylor (Dec. 6).
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