K-State starts new season with high expectations

John Hubert can’t help but think about last year, and how a
season that could have very well ended in the national championship
game was ruined on a Saturday night at Baylor.

The Wildcats were undefeated and No. 1 in the BCS standings when
they rolled into Waco, Texas, piloted by a Heisman Trophy finalist
in quarterback Collin Klein and with seemingly the worst part of
their schedule behind them. They left with a humiliating, one-sided
defeat.

They’d go on to win the Big 12 championship and earn a berth in
the Fiesta Bowl, but that was merely a nice consolation prize.

Hubert watched as Alabama – the team that reached the title game
instead of Kansas State – routed Notre Dame for the national
championship, and could only stew as he thought about how the
Wildcats would have fared against the Fighting Irish.

”I feel like if we were in the national championship, we
probably would have won. But we weren’t,” Hubert said Monday
afternoon, standing at midfield inside Bill Snyder Family
Stadium.

”We came a long way, we got so close but we came up short, so
there’s a lot for us to go out and prove,” Hubert said. ”We still
have unfinished business.”

It may be a cliche, but in the world of the Wildcats, it
certainly rings true.

The Wildcats are three days into practice for a new season, and
expectations are as high as ever. It doesn’t seem to matter that
they lost Klein and a bevy of seniors from their defense,
either.

They return their entire offensive line, skill position players
such as Hubert and wide receiver Tyler Lockett, and leadership in
the form of linebacker Tre Walker.

Hubert seems to believe that the pieces are there to make
another run at that BCS title game.

”Everybody just needs to get to the same level, where we’re
competing and worrying about right now, getting better,” he said.
”It starts from Day 1 of camp.”

So does the race to replace Klein.

Daniel Sams showed promise in mop-up duty, flashing wide
receiver-like athleticism and running back-type speed while rushing
for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

But in coach Bill Snyder’s run-based offense, Sams was never
once called upon to throw a pass last season, leaving a giant
question mark accompanying the sophomore quarterback from Slidell,
La.

His competition comes in the form of Jake Waters, who
transferred at the semester from Iowa Western Community College. He
was the junior college offensive player of the year last season
after throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns with just three
interceptions.

”I was looking forward to him coming in,” Sams said, ”and
when he got here, I introduced myself and from that point, we hit
it off. He came with mutual respect. He just said, `I want to
compete. I want to play.’ And I said the same thing.”

Waters admitted that he’s never really entered fall camp in a
dead-heat for the starting job. Back in high school and even in
junior college, he was always the next man up.

”We both keep an even keel. One day I’ll make a bad read or
make a bad throw, one day he will,” Waters said. ”We’re going to
have ups and downs. You just have to stay consistent.”

There will be plenty of other jobs up for grabs as the Wildcats
prepare for their Friday night season opener against North Dakota
State on Aug. 30.

Arthur Brown emerged as one of the best linebackers in the
nation last season, and was drafted early in the second round by
the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Fellow linebacker Jarrell Childs, top defensive backs Allen
Chapman and Nigel Malone, and the entire starting defensive front
also graduated.

Snyder said he could name 10 guys who have a chance at the four
defensive line spots.

”We have a lot of guys who have played and who have game day
experience,” said sophomore defensive end Ryan Mueller, who hopes
to be one of them in the mix. ”We also have guys who were role
players and who are looking forward to being impact players.”

The Wildcats’ season opener was moved up a day so that it can be
televised nationally, which means a bit quicker timetable to settle
on a starting lineup.

After the Bison come games against Louisiana and UMass, and then
the Big 12 grind starts with a trip to Texas.

That’s when a team picked to finish sixth in the league should
be truly tested.

”All we can control is coming out every day in practice and
getting better,” Waters said. ”There’s a bunch of great teams in
the Big 12, we’re all balanced. They were right, maybe, putting us
where we were in the poll, but we’ll find out on the field. That’s
where it matters.”