by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

In the third year of Bill Snyder’s return, Kansas State is loaded with question marks. But the respected, no-nonsense mentor frequently surprised during his “first life” in Manhattan, so there should be no shock if the cagey coach does so again.

In his second year back in the “Little Apple,” Snyder guided the unbalanced Wildcats to a 7-5 regular-season mark that included a 59-7 blowout of in-state rival Kansas and a 39-14, five-interception spanking of mixed-up Texas in Austin. K-State earned a bid to the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium. But the season ended on a downer when sr. WR Adrian Hilburn saluted the crowd after making a TD catch with just over a minute to play, pulling KSU within two points of home-state representative Syracuse, 36-34. Hilburn’s impromptu gesture to conclude the key drive drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, meaning the Wildcats would have initiate their try for a tying two-point conversion attempt from the 18, instead of from the Orange 3. When the desperate KSU PAT pass and ensuing onside kick both failed, Kansas State was done.

However, the controversial call helped change a bad rule. From now on, a spontaneous response to a satisfying score, such as Hilburn’s, will not be penalized. The officials’ 15-yard walk-off will be reserved for premeditated and/or prolonged outbursts, thus allowing college players a little more natural continuity after important scores. But the change comes too late for KSU, whose 2010 season ended that on that cold December 30 afternoon in the Bronx.

The questions of 2011 begin at QB, where mobile 6-5 jr. Collin Klein (432 YR, but only 11 of 18 passing LY) has the pole position heading into August practice. Klein has reportedly improved his passing and has polished his leadership skills in the summer. Still, he has only two starts under his belt, and his aerial skills remain in question. Challenging Klein will be 6-3, 227 juco Justin Tuggle (son of former standout NFL LB Jessie Tuggle), who started three games at Boston College in 2009 before transferring to Blinn CC in Texas, where he took over for Cam Newton last season. Also in the mix is 6-4, 221 sr. Sammuel Lamur, who saw action in four games LY and is a “dual-threat” QB twin of K-State LB/S Emmanuel.

QB performance in Manhattan is expected to be more important this season following the departure of powerful RB Daniel Thomas (himself a converted QB), who rushed for 1265 yards in 2009 and then 1585 in 2010 as the centerpiece of the Wildcat offense that produced 33.6 ppg LY and was 22nd in the nation in rushing, but only 92nd in passing. Bryce Brown, a controversial blue-chip RB recruit at Tennessee in 2009 (where he had 460 YR as a true frosh), will get a chance to become the featured back for K-State. Brown (from Wichita) is back in his home state, but his intensity and summer work ethic have reportedly been questioned by some. On the other hand, Snyder has virtually nothing but praise for 6-3, 255 FB Braden Wilson, a selfless battering ram of a blocker and decent threat as a receiver. The offensive line—the key to KSU’s potent ground game the L2Ys— has lost 3 of 5 starters.

It appears that a quality group of receivers is available if co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Del Miller can develop a quality passer. WR Brodrick Smith (14 recs. LY), a former transfer from Minnesota, is back after suffering a broken leg in the fifth game LY. Promising soph Tramaine Thompson (19 recs.) was able to play in only seven games. Chris Harper (25 recs., 4 TDC), a Wichita native who once played QB at Oregon, seems ready to fully blossom as a wideout. And 5-11 true frosh Tyler Lockett, son of former KSU WR Kevin and brother of former KSU WR Aaron, is ready to add his speed.

Snyder’s main focus on the recruiting trail in the offseason was the defensive line after the Wildcats failed to stop the run in 2010, finishing 119th at 231 ypg (only New Mexico was worse). In addition to being porous, K-State recorded only 20 sacks (three of them by mighty-mite 5-8 sr. CB David Garrett, who also led the team with 92 tackles). 6-4, 305 sr. DT Ray Kibble returns up front. But Snyder is hoping that newcomers can quickly work their way into the DL rotation. Among that group are 308-pound frosh DT Lamonte Clark, juco DE Meshak Williams, frosh DE Ian Seau (nephew of NFL LB Junior), and long-armed frosh DE Marquel Bryant.

There’s more talent on hand this season at LB, allowing Snyder to change from LY’s run-vulnerable 4-2-5 scheme to a more aggressive 4-3. First, veterans sr. Alex Hrebec (no Jeopardy jokes please), jr. Jarell Childs, and soph Tre Walker all return at LB. Additions include jr. transfer Arthur Brown (brother of RB Bryce) from the University of Miami and 6-4, 225 sr. Emmanuel Lamur. Brown was the leader of the scout team during his transfer year and further impressed as a leader in spring. And Lamur has added 10 pounds after playing LY at safety.

The presence of redoubtable sr. CB Garrett helps anchor a secondary that also includes sr. S Tyson Hartman (86 tackles LY) and rapidly-developing soph S Ty Zimmerman (74 Ts, plus 3 ints.). Still, the back line of the Wildcat defense was called upon to make far too many stops in 2010, a situation that will be aided if the newcomers in the front seven develop quickly. Jr. kickoff specialist Anthony Cantele (1 of 2 FGs LY) takes over as placekicker.

Summary...The new round-robin schedule in the revised Big XII (requiring nine conference games) makes it difficult for Snyder to line up his preferred long list of soft touches, especially when K-State has a team in transition. Eastern Kentucky (6-5 LY) and Kent State (5-7) qualify, but then it’s off to face Al Golden’s athletic Hurricanes, in Miami. It will take a break-out year by either one of the QBs or by RB Bryce Brown for the Wildcats to even stay in contention in a tough conference. K-State is a rather-surprising 5-2 vs. Texas in Big XII play, sparking one reporter to semi-kiddingly ask whether the Wildcats are now looking forward to facing the Longhorns every season. Said Snyder, “I assure you we don’t have anybody’s number....I just hope we can compete this year with them.” Will question-mark laden K-State need a victory in its finale vs. Iowa State just to get to a bowl?

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