Booth Breakdown: A far-out look at the Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (2) is stopped by Kansas State safety VJ Payne (19) linebacker Daniel Green (22) and safety Drake Cheatum (21) after catching a pass for a first down during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

This preview is the 11th in a 12-part series previewing the upcoming KU football schedule.

As we slide into the bottom two weeks of the Booth Breakdown, it’s fitting that the in-state rivalry with Kansas State is saved for Week 11. The Wildcats are assuredly a Big 12 Conference title contender once again this season, retaining several pieces that got Chris Klieman his first conference title last fall.

Last season, K-State (10-4, 7-2 Big 12) survived a quarterback shift that illuminated a clear leader in Will Howard midway through the season. Conversely, the offseason saw multiple defensive leaders leap toward the NFL Draft, including defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah (Kansas City), cornerback Julius Brent (Indianapolis) and safety Josh Hayes (Tampa Bay).

Additionally, former Wildcats running back Deuce Vaughn (Dallas) and quarterback Adrian Martinez (Detroit, undrafted) found new homes.

As preseason fall camp rolls on, K-State isn’t looking far to replace last year’s offense.

Under center, Howard returns as the undeniable starter after completing 119 passes for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior. Protecting a valuable Howard will be an intact offensive line from last year, consisting of senior center Hayden Gillum, senior tackles Christian Duffie, KT Leveston and junior guard Cooper Beebe.

Vaughn has been replaced in the backfield by returning back DJ Giddens and Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward. Giddens produced 518 total yards and six touchdowns last fall and Ward holds 1,241 career rushing yards during four years with the Seminoles, including 628 yards and seven TDs last fall.

Only one primary returning receiver, Philip Brooks, will be on this year’s depth chart. Filling the room will be proven Iowa transfer Keagan Johnson, sophomore RJ Garcia II and fourth-year tight end Ben Sinnott. Sinnott recorded 31 receptions for 447 yards and four TDs in 2022.

With a promising blueprint offensively, K-State will look to rebuild a defense destined to face a conference full of aggressive offenses. Last season, the Big 12 averaged 32.2 points per game.

Defensive ends Khalid Duke, Nate Matlack and nose guard Uso Seumalo will all be tasked with providing the level of pressure previously brought by Anudike-Uzomah up front.

Super-senior linebacker Daniel Green is back to help lead the Wildcats’ defense, hoping to improve his career 219 tackles alongside returning linebacker Austin Moore. Moore put together a team-best 87 tackles last fall.

Further back in the secondary, senior safety Kobe Savage is sole returning starter. Savage will be joined at safety by VJ Payne and South Dakota State transfer Marques Sigle to help carry the load; Keenan Garber, Jacob Parrish and Colby McCalister will all fight for snaps at cornerback.

Historically, Kansas leads the series with K-State 57-49-5; however, the Wildcats have won 14 consecutive meetings in the Sunflower Showdown. Last year, KU traveled to Manhattan and fell 47-27 in its regular-season finale.

K-State opens its schedule with two very winnable matchups with Southeast Missouri State and Troy before traveling to Columbia to meet old friend Missouri in a nationally televised test of strength.


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