The Wildcats, fresh off their 2022 Big 12 title win and Sugar Bowl appearance, are poised to make another strong run at the crown once again. Led by senior and Maxwell and Davey O'Brien watch list member quarterback Will Howard, as well as senior offensive lineman and NFL Draft prospect Cooper Beebe and a handful of other senior leaders and producers, this squad has experience, skill, and good coaching to have a very successful season this year. Some would say they even have a chance at the College Football Playoff if all goes well, but with a competitive, new look Big 12 ahead of them, it will not be an easy road. You have competition like Texas and Oklahoma who are in their last year of the Big 12 and may want a shot at a sort of "last dance" with the conference, rising programs such as UCF, Kansas, and Texas Tech, and even teams that aren't expected to see much success such as Cincinnati, BYU, and Oklahoma State that could be dark horse contenders. Let's analyze just what it will take for the Wildcats to get past the gauntlet that is their conference and prove that they deserve a shot at the College Football Playoff.
First and foremost, the offensive strength for the Wildcats will lie in their run and short pass game. With Deuce Vaughan being gone, that certainly leaves a hole, but replacing him with a talent such as Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward fills the gap nicely. Top that with a solid all-around fullback/tight end in Ben Sinnott as well as tight end Jake Huggins and a solid receiving corps led by Phillip Brooks, and you have a great all-around offense that can reflect and even surpass the numbers put up last year. Defensively, the Wildcats will rely heavily on their linebacking corps to lead this defense. With a young, inexperienced secondary (though there is still Kobe Savage and Jordan Wright who will lead that group well) as well as a defensive front that has lost a lot of key talent, Kansas State has an extremely strong linebacking corps led by Daniel Green and Khalid Dukes. They also added strong JUCO transfer Terry Kirksey and bring up Jake Clifton, who has showed flashes. Most defenses run through their linebackers, so this is a great sign for the Wildcats that only returned 49% of their defensive production. Expect the Wildcats to only take a slight step back at worst on the defensive side of the ball, and for a Top 30 unit nationally last year, that's not too bad.
Let's summarize some of Kansas State's opponents now. Your big worries are obviously #17 TCU and #11 Texas, who also rank in the preseason poll right around the #16 Wildcats. Top that with some contenders that may not have made the poll but will certainly make noise like UCF, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Kansas, and there seems to be no easy games for the Cats. They start of their season with a couple of tune-up non-conference games in SEMO and Troy, but going to Faurot Field to play the Missouri Tigers will be an easier said than done task. If K-State can rely on their senior leadership, commit to a balanced, offensive attack that matriculates down the field, and can find gems along the defensive line and in the secondary to compliment the linebackers, there's no reason this team can't go at least 10-2. Play their cards right, and an undefeated season could be in order, as well as a chance to compete for a national title. It's a season of high expectations for the Wildcats after last year's big-time successes. It will be a gauntlet, but even as a Jayhawk alum myself I fully expect this team to compete for not only a Big 12 title, but a national title as well.
Burn Notice: 10/10 Every Burn a Wildcat? Nah, I just recognize game when I see it.