EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 15th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
Low expectations are not something with which Kansas State is unfamiliar. Exceeding low expectations? Well, that happens now and again. Take last season, when the Wildcats were picked sixth in the conference and won it. Given that, along with a 21-5 record the last two years and a brief stop at No. 1 in the nation, perhaps it's not wise to underestimate Bill Snyder's team.
Then again, this year's edition will be without quarterback Collin Klein, top receiver Chris Harper, almost the entire defense and both kickers. So needless to say there is plenty of work to be done.
The quarterback battle will go into fall camp between dual-threat sophomore Daniel Sams and junior college passer Jake Walters. No matter who wins the job, though, he'll have a great set of undersized but speedy targets in Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. Those two, along with running back John Hubert (947 yards, 15 TDs), should give the Wildcats enough to build around behind a veteran offensive line and perhaps maintain the ball-control, few-mistakes style that Snyder likes to employ.
The defense is a different story. Almost everyone is gone, including six of the top seven tacklers, the top five defensive linemen, three of the top four linebackers and half the secondary. Safety Ty Zimmerman is as good as they come, but with almost everything in front of him needing to be replaced he's going to be under a lot of pressure. The most experienced player in the secondary besides Zimmerman is a former walk-on, cornerback Randall Evans.
And while the kicking jobs will both go to newcomers, the special teams don't figure to suffer as a whole. That's because Lockett is perhaps the best kick returner in the country and Thompson might be the best punt returner.
West Virginia has played Kansas State three times, but this is the first trip to Manhattan. The other three games, two of them in the 1930s, were in Morgantown. ... Kansas State was 299-510 before Snyder arrived in 1989 and the only thing he accomplished in year one was the school's 300th all-time win. But in the 20 years since - interrupted by his three-year retirement in 2006-08 - his 169 wins amount to 56 percent of what the school won in the 94 years prior to that. ... No, the Wildcats aren't playing two FCS schools. UMass is now in the FBS and plays in the Mid-American Conference. ... Kansas State is the third of WVU's first four Big 12 opponents (Oklahoma State and Baylor are the others) that has an open date the week before.