KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State headed into this season faced with the prospect of replacing its starting quarterback, best defensive player and a slew of other contributors on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats shouldn't have nearly as many concerns next season.
After a dominant victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday night, Kansas State heads into the offseason brimming with optimism — and expectations. The Wildcats will return most of their key players next season, including quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who hooked up for three TD passes against the Wolverines.
"We're losing some great seniors," Waters said, "but with the work ethic that we have, the type of coaches that we have, we're all excited about it."
As well they should be.
The Wildcats had to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown from a Fiesta Bowl team this season, and it was a struggle early on. The Wildcats lost to lower-division North Dakota State in their season opener, and then lost its first three Big 12 games.
But by the midway point of the season, coach Bill Snyder had begun to embrace a two-QB system involving Waters and Daniel Sams, and a defense that had been gouged by Texas and Oklahoma State had improved to the point that it was holding mighty Baylor in check.
After losing a nip-and-tuck game with the Bears on Oct. 12, the Wildcats' only other loss came in a tight game against Oklahoma. Along the way, they routed Texas Tech when it was still among the nation's ranked teams, and trounced rival Kansas 31-10 to cap the regular season.
Then an impressive performance against the Wolverines, jumping out to a 21-6 lead and the tacking on a touchdown in the closing minutes to help seal the 31-14 victory Saturday night.
It was the Wildcats' first bowl victory in 11 years.
"The way the season started, it wasn't the way we wanted," said Waters, who threw for 271 yards and the three TDs to Lockett without tossing an interception. "But to finish the way we did, it gives us a lot of momentum and excitement about getting started again."
There will be holes to fill, just as there are every season, but the majority of the key players on both sides of the ball are expected back next year.