Continuing our series checking in with the beat writers from Oklahoma State’s Big 12 opponents as we march toward the start of college football season.
Texas with ESPN.com HornsNation’s Carter Strickland
Kansas with the Lawrence Journal-World’s Matt Tait
Texas Tech with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Nick Kosmider
TCU with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson
West Virginia with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jenn Menendez
Iowa State with the Ames Tribune’s Bobby La Gesse
Kansas State with the Wichita Eagle’s Kellis Robinett
Here’s our exchange:
Gina Mizell: K-State was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season, but is projected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 preseason poll. Some point to all the close games last season and say it will be impossible to repeat that success. What are the realistic expectations for K-State?
Kellis Robinett: When The Sporting News ranks a team sixth nationally and Big 12 coaches predict that same team to finish sixth in its conference, pretty much anything is possible. I’m predicting K-State to win nine games. With so many starters returning, the Wildcats should be better than they were last season. But it will be difficult to duplicate 10 victories with road games against Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia.
GM: Could you argue that Collin Klein is the most valuable player in college football? What needs to happen for him to be a serious Heisman contender? Where has he grown most during the offseason?
KR: You could definitely argue that. Klein does everything for K-State on offense. There may be other quarterbacks who can run as well as he can and there are plenty that can throw better, but no one is tougher and few are better teammates. For him to be a Heisman contender, K-State will need to contend for a Big 12 title and he will need to run for even more touchdowns than he did last season. That being said, he has spent the offseason trying to improve as a passer. We’ll see how much he improved starting Saturday.
GM: Folks around here were already familiar with Tyler Lockett. Then he had an immediate impact as a returner as a true freshman. How has his developed as a receiver? And how crucial is he to this team’s success?
KR: He spent the spring and summer trying to eat as much as possible and add muscle to his upper body. Lockett was one of the most explosive young all-purpose receivers in the country last season. But it turned out he wasn’t ready to take big hits and his season ended against Oklahoma State. He wants to master the receiver position as a sophomore and stay healthy as a sophomore. He is crucial to K-State’s offense, because he gives the Wildcats a deep threat with his speed.
GM: Arthur Brown and Nigel Malone both made the preseason All-Big 12 team. But this team ranked 103rd in the nation in pass defense last season. Oklahoma State fans know the numbers don’t always tell the full story, so how good can this defense be? How good will it need to be?
KR: Overall, K-State’s secondary wasn’t too bad last year. It created turnovers and made big plays when it had to. It just got chewed up by Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor. Strong passing teams found a way to throw against the Wildcats. With Landry Jones coming back and West Virginia entering the conference, they will be tested by high-potent offenses once again this season. Nigel Malone, Arthur Brown and Ty Zimmerman give K-State’s a solid nucleus on defense. But it will need Thomas Ferguson, Randall Evans and Allen Chapman to play well for the secondary to make significant improvements against the best offenses.
GM: What’s the biggest question mark about this team heading into the season?
KR: K-State coaches are high on their young offensive line, but they are still an inexperienced group. B.J. Finney is the top returning blocker, and he is a sophomore. Several players who didn’t see much action last season will need to step up and win the battle up front for K-State to be consistent on offense.