MANHATTAN, Kan. — If it’s me, it’s the guy who can get the ball to The Guy. Or Guys, in this case.
Bill Snyder’s offensive line is the chassis, the foundation. But Tyler Lockett and Tremaine Thompson are the twin-barrel engines of the Kansas State offense, the men who need the rock in their hands as much as possible come fall. The ones most likely to make magic happen. The ones most likely to spin a series of straw into a drive of gold.
You play to your strengths. Lockett runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. So does Thompson, the bookend on the other side of the line. The pair spent the spring game running circles around the Wildcats’ backups in the secondary. It was like a backyard game, drawing up plays on your palm. OK, everybody go deep. Ready? Break!
Snyder’s playbook is more complicated than that, of course, by several hundred palms. But the Jedi Master knows what he has, and what he hasn’t. With Collin Klein under center, it was old-school, wing-T stuff with a read-option look, giants blocking for giants, 6-foot-9 left tackle Cornelius Lucas and 6-4 fullback Braden Wilson plowing the fields for the 6-5 Klein, who usually took care of the rest of the tilling himself. Over the last two autumns, no squad in the Big 12 imposed its will, domineered by sheer brute force, better than K-State.
But 2013 is a different feel, a different beast, a different skill set. Lucas is still in the mix — or so we’ve been told; he was a no-show during the team’s open practice last Saturday — but the principals at the skill positions now veer toward the small and the quick. Lockett is 5-11. Thompson is 5-8. Tailback John Hubert? 5-7. Backups DeMarcus Robinson and Robert Rose? 5-7 and 5-4, respectively.
In 2011 and 2012, Snyder ran over the league with a squadron of tanks. In 2013, he’s sitting on a fleet of Maseratis.
So conventional wisdom says it’s Jake Waters by a nose at quarterback, when and if a starter under center is finally announced for next Friday’s season opener against North Dakota State (7:30 p.m. kickoff, FOX Sports 1). Maybe. Probably.
Which is not to slight Waters’ top competition for the job: Daniel Sams is a Big 12 quarterback, a dangerous Big 12 quarterback, holy hell on wheels once he finds a crease to squirt through. In a perfect world, you find a way to get the 6-2 Louisiana native on the field, somewhere, just to give the other guy’s defensive coordinator just one more stinking thing to have to worry about.
Heck, you could plop Waters and Sams into in the same shotgun backfield and let center B.J. Finney decide which one he wants to hike the ball to. Instant chaos. The possibilities are endless. Also, fun.
Electricity? Edge to Sams.
Arm strength? Sams.
Consistency? There’s the rub.
When my strength is speed along the perimeter, I want the most accurate arm at signal-caller, the guy most likely to take advantage of my greatest personnel edge between the white lines.
In that respect, Waters ticks every box: Last fall at Iowa Western Community College, Waters completed 73.3 percent of this throws, with 39 touchdowns and only three picks in 333 attempts — or one every 111 tosses. In the spring, his K-State debut, he completed 16 of 22 throws for 257 yards and three scores.
“Every time we’re out there, battling, it’s definitely making us better,” Waters says. “Because we’re both even right now. So it’s whoever is going to make the most plays.”
And the fewest mistakes. To Snyder, football — stripped of all the chess moves and nuances and telestrators — is a game of geography, its victories ultimately measured by territory and possession. Nothing riles the Jedi Master up quite like giveaways, dumb mistakes and handing the other guy a short field. The steadiest hands will win the job. But the safest will wind up keeping it.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.