Wildcats expect to carry momentum into 2014

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.

Running back John Hubert, who went over 1,000 yards for the

season against Michigan, will have graduated. So will wide

receivers Torell Miller and Tramaine Thompson, and three offensive

linemen in Tavon Rooks, Cornelius Lucas and Keenan Taylor.

But the Wildcats worked several underclassmen into the mix this

season, particularly along the offensive line, where Boston

Stiverson should slip easily into one of the starting spots.

Kansas State also has a commitment from running back Dalvin

Warmack from Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, the first two-time

winner of the Simone Award given to top prep player in the Kansas

City area. Warmack is expected to compete for the starting job this

fall.

Defensive tackle Chaquil Reed, linebackers Blake Slaughter and

Tre Walker, and defensive backs Ty Zimmerman, Kip Dailey and

Dorrian Roberts will be lost to graduation, but backups such as

Morgan Burns and Demonte Hood showed this season they can be

capable replacements.

”It depends on how we practice when we get back,” Snyder said.

”I hope we set a foundation for the younger players in our

program. It will be up to them.”

Then again, Snyder thought the foundation had been laid last

season, only for his team to stumble out of the gates in September

and October. So he’s not willing to read too much into the momentum

that was gained by a late-season surge and a bowl win in the

desert.

”We didn’t get off to a great start. We took some things for

granted. I think some of our young people realized that and turned

the whole thing around,” Snyder said. ”That’s the biggest lesson

probably for the young people that are in our program returning,

you know, realizing how we started this season and why it took

place. That `why’ is the most significant thing.”

Especially given the schedule next season.

Along with the usual Big 12 round robin, and games against

Stephen F. Austin and UTEP, the Wildcats welcome No. 2 Auburn to

Manhattan for an early non-conference showdown.

”Looking back at the season, seeing how everybody didn’t give

up – it’s easy to give up at 2-5,” Lockett said. ”Being able to

keep fighting, fighting, ending the season 6-1, whatever it may be,

it gives us a lot more to look forward to next year.”