We’ve entered a new phase in the Chris Klieman era of Kansas State football. Like most coaches, he began in the (re)build phase of the program. A recruiting blunder coupled with a series of transfers at the end of Snyder 2.0 left him with a roster full of holes with low athleticism. He managed to go two 8-win seasons in three years and would have had 6 wins in the Covid season if his entire squad hadn’t been ravaged by injury or illness in the back half of the season. With the help of the transfer portal, K-State has managed to win and rebuild at the same time. I don’t think people appreciate the difficulty of this task.
We have now entered the expectation phase of the Klieman era.
Athlon lined up its all-conference team for the 2022 preseason a while ago, and the Wildcats were heavily represented.
RB – Two Vaughn
OG – Cooper Beebe
DL – Felix Anudike-Uzomah
LB Daniel Grün
CB – Julius Brents
KR Malik Knowles
DL Eli Huggins
CB – Ekow Boye-Doe
LB – Khalid Duke
WR Phillip Brooks
OL – Christian Duffie
PR – Phillip Brooks
K-State has 12 total picks and 11 players (Brooks is both a WR and PR) on the team. That’s good for fifth place in the Big 12, ahead of TCU (11), Texas Tech (11), West Virginia (11), Iowa State (10), and Kansas (6…LOL).
Ahead of the 2021 season, Athlon thought the Wildcats had Kansas-level talent with 6 All-Conference players. That was good for 9th place in the Big 12 (just ahead of Kansas with 4…LOL again). Only one of them (Deuce, of course) was a 1st-team position player (Brooks was the 1st-team PR). This season, the Wildcats have five 1st-team position players (Malik is 1st-team KR). That’s a huge jump in terms of perceived talent, and at least one person in the sports media has taken note (somewhat reluctantly).
hello, I am @ESPN_BillCand I’m officially voting in the state of Kansas for 2022. Anyone want to join this potentially doomed expedition?
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) May 31, 2022
There’s always pressure on a college football coach to win games, but the pressure to win when people expect you to win is a little different than the pressure to “kinda make it to 6 wins.” This squad is beginning to receive some national recognition. There are several legitimate high-round NFL prospects on the roster, and the Deuce Vaughn/Adrian Martinez combination could be one of the most combustible backfield pairings in the nation. This team should not only win, but also earn points. Throw in a defense with (at least) two high-level pass rushers backed by two lockdown corners, and last but not least, the Wildcats should be a fun team to watch on either side of the ball.
With the extra eyes comes extra outside pressure to win. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the plus side of the equation, if Kansas State can pull off a 9-10-win season and compete in the Big 12, Coach Klieman’s job should get a whole lot easier, at least in terms of recruiting. On the negative side, this team will not be sneaking up on anyone this year, and heavy losses will be difficult to forgive. If you’re not expected to be good, losing a game to a perennial doormat like Iowa State* isn’t the end of the world…it’s not great…but it won’t ruin your season. This season, an inexcusable loss to Iowa State or West Virginia would be a lot harder to accept.
Coach Klieman previously grappled with expectations while dominating FCS at North Dakota State, but this is a different beast. Many coaches fail to meet the “expectations” portion of their coaching tenure, and even more fail to meet expectations once they do. I’m old enough to remember Butch Jones and the Volunteers breaking down and burning in the anticipation phase. I’ve seen Tommy Bowden and Clemson consistently underperform, to the point where “Clemsoning” crept into the sports lexicon. Matt Campbell and Iowa State went 7-6 with (arguably) their best roster in school history and were stuck in “expectations but no payout” mode for most of Campbell’s tenure (granted, the bar isn’t terrible in Iowa State) .
Nothing is more frustrating for a fanbase (excluding Iowa State) than having the talent to get over the hump but never make it to the other side. Competing in the Big 12 Championship isn’t the expectation for this Kansas State team, but for the first time in a long time it’s not an EMAW fever dream conjured up after a long night in Aggieville. This team has real talent in key positions. Oklahoma and Texas still have more talent on paper, but after that the Wildcats should be able to line up and go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Big 12. The Oklahoma-Texas gap is more of a ditch than a chasm this season.
Momentum is key in college football, and winning breeds winning. Manhattan will never be an easy place to recruit, but with some national hype, things will get easier. A few of those 4-star recruits that the Wildcats lost to other mid-range programs (like Nebraska…I’m feeling generous) might end up at the Little Apple instead. If this team can get 9-10 wins this season with exciting offense, it will make it that much harder for a 4-star quarterback like Maize’s Avery Johnson to travel to Oregon, Washington or Virginia because he knows he’s winning can. and win big at K-State. A Heisman call for Deuce Vaughn (which is a definite possibility and would likely require a 9- or 10-win season) would make running backs John Randal Jr. and Dylan Edwards look even more closely. King Felix and Khalid Duke will terrorize the quarterbacks and the corners should take multiple interceptions. This will look good on national television.
This squad is built to win now and it’s built in a way that should be entertaining to watch. I expect more national eyes on the Kansas State program this season. If the team can meet (or exceed) expectations, great things could be in store for the Wildcats. A disappointing season could hamper the momentum that K-State currently enjoys on the recruiting path (in terms of attracting the attention of top talent).
I suggest you buckle up now because the season should be wild.