FRISCO, Tex. (WIBW) - The first season without Bill Snyder is going to take some getting used to in Manhattan. But that doesn't mean Kansas State wants to settle for what happened last year.
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman speaks during Big 12 Conference NCAA college football media day Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David Kent)
The Wildcats will try to bounce back from a campaign that featured just five wins and no bowl game for the first time since 2009. In the Big 12 preseason poll, KSU is picked to finish ninth, the lowest prediction for the program since the conference dropped to 10 teams in 2011.
But the players themselves don't see things that way for this first year under new head coach Chris Klieman.
"We're going to surprise you," senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon said. "We're going to show you more than what you thought we were going to give you. Wherever that falls in the rankings, first, second, third, fourth, I mean I don't know. I'm just saying it's not going to be what everybody thinks."
"I'm from Louisiana, so I'm always going to keep that chip on my shoulder," senior defensive end Reggie Walker said. "And I'm just trying to bestow that on all these guys. Like, get that chip, they picked us ninth in the Big 12. Yeah, it's just a pick, so let's go out there and show them why we're one of the top contenders in the Big 12."
If K-State wants to be that, a heavy load will fall on the shoulders of quarterback Skylar Thompson. He'll lead an offense that brings back no running backs who gained yards for KSU last year and a receiver group whose leader caught just 32 passes in 2018.
That opens up chances for newcomers, like transfer running backs James Gilbert (Ball State) and Jordon Brown (North Carolina), plus wideouts with limited experience like redshirt freshman Malik Knowles and junior Wykeen Gill.
"You got to look at it as an opportunity to step up and make plays," Thompson said. "That's why you come and play at this level. You want an opportunity to go play, well you got an opportunity to go play. It's time to make the most of it."
"It's helped us a lot that we have a lot of young, hungry guys in that room," Schoen said. "A lot of guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and they're excited about the opportunity, however it came about, to go out and show what they can do."
"It's really good because we got a quarterback who's going to make sure the guys' attitudes are phenomenal because he's a tremendous leader," Chris Klieman said. "We have some really talented guys that stayed within the program."
That can be seen up front on the defensive side of the ball. Kansas State should feature one of the better defensive lines in the conference with Walker, sophomore defensive end Wyatt Hubert, senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon and others.
While the defense did lose senior linebacker Justin Hughes for the season to an injury, Walker said to look out for two others in that group.
"People don't know, but Da'Quan Patton and Elijah Sullivan are probably going to be two of the best linebackers in this league this year," Walker said.
Walker was the lone Wildcat picked to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. He said he's noticing a difference in how the KSU defense is preparing for the season.
"It's no joke," Walker said. "When we're out there on the field, we're getting our work in. We're always staying after, getting more hand work, getting more feet work. We're out here racing to the quarterback."
The Wildcats open the regular season with Nicholls State at home on Aug. 31.