No team in America is experiencing a bigger transition than the Kansas State Wildcats. The Wildcats will be without their winningest coach in program history and without the architect of what most people consider Kansas State Football, Bill Snyder. Snyder took over a KSU team in 1989 that was 0-26-1 and hadn’t won a game in three years. Three years later the team went 7-4 and in 1998, the Wildcats went undefeated. To call Snyder a wizard is an understatement to his magic and his ability to get 2- and 3-star players to play better and tougher than teams with more star talent.
GET TO KNOW THE ENEMY
Where are they from?: Manhattan, KS
#BRAND Slogan: #KStateFB
Recommended Blog: Bring On The Cats
Famous Alumni: Eric Stonestreet, Jordy Nelson and Kirstey Alley
Conference: Big 12
THE HEAD COACH
Klieman was the head coach at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State where he continued a winning tradition. Former head coach Craig Bohl took a program to new heights when he captured their first national title since 1990 in 2011. Bohl won three consecutive titles (2011-2013) before departing to take over the Wyoming Cowboys. Klieman became the head coach in 2014 and won 4 national titles in 5 years with the Bison while compiling a 69-6 record. Now he faces the daunting task of taking over for the best coach in Kansas State history and the only coach to actually win in Manhattan. The last time the Wildcats tried to transition from Snyder, Ron Prince went 17-20 in his three seasons, leading to the Wildcats luring Snyder out of retirement.
SCOUTIN’ THE WILDCATS
The Wildcats had one of the toughest schedules last year when they played 5 teams ranked in the top 25, losing every game. Compounding the issues with the Wildcats, Snyder was unable to settle on a quarterback, leading to a two-person in-season system between Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton. Eventually Thompson won the job but the uncertainty of Snyder and the ineffective passing on Thompson limited the Wildcats. The Wildcats were 5-6 after beating Kansas and Texas Tech but fell 38-42 to Iowa State in the final game of Bill Snyder’s career.
Who did they lose?
It’s impossible to talk about who Kansas State lost without starting with Snyder. The man invented Kansas State football and was easily one of the classiest coaches around, often writing handwritten notes to opposing players, always written sideways on a napkin in purple marker.
Player-wise, the Wildcats need to replace Alex Barnes in the backfield and that will not be easy as Barnes rushed for over 1,300 yards at over 5 per carry and 12 touchdowns. In fact, every running back (not running quarterback) who touched the ball last year is gone: Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon are gone and Isaiah Zuber has decided to transfer.
Justin Hughes on the defensive side will be a tough loss. Hughes was lost in the spring game to an ACL-tear and will miss the entire year, which is a big blow since he was the team’s third-leading tackler last season with 55 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.
Who do they return?
Skylar Thompson is back and should be productive in offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham’s offense, which leans heavily on running between the tackles and throwing just enough to keep the defense honest. Four of the starting offensive linemen from last year return giving Thompson reason to believe there will be holes opened up for the running game. Speaking of the running game - Ball State graduate transfer James Gilbert should give Klieman an experienced back much in the way Charles Sims did for West Virginia in 2013.
Defensively, the Wildcats have a pair of seniors on the defensive line in Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker. Linebackers DaQuan Patton and Elijah Sullivan will be asked to try and supplement Hughes absence while Denzel Goolsby and AJ Parker in the secondary will be tasked with trying to slow down the Big 12 offenses.
Why should West Virginia be worried?
A new head coach with a similar scheme as his predecessor and a penchant for winning should make the tough transition from Bill Snyder less difficult. Messingham’s offense should benefit Gilbert and if Gilbert is thriving, then quarterback Skylar Thompson won’t be asked to use his arm to keep his team close.
Why should West Virginia not be worried?
The hardest thing in sports is to be the guy who has to replace “the guy”. Charlie Strong at Texas had to replace Mack Brown. Klieman has to replace Bill Snyder and no matter how much he won at the FCS level, he is stepping into a Power 5 job that under Snyder won and won a good amount. The last time the Wildcats retired Snyder, they immediately went back to a doormat.