[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image source="featured_image" img_size="large"][vc_column_text]Kansas State has not played in the Big 12 championship game since 2003. The Wildcats did however split the crown with Oklahoma in 2012, during the game's six year hiatus. The Big 12 conference has been pretty topsy-turvy over the last several seasons. Oklahoma had won six straight league championships until 2021 when Baylor won their first one since 2014. Since the Big 12 championship returned in 2017, there has been a new face in the title game each season. In 2017 it was TCU, 2018 was Texas, 2019 was Baylor, 2020 was Iowa State and in 2021 Oklahoma State finally made its first appearance.
The question annually is "which team will compete with Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship?" Each season the answer has appeared differently. There's a good reason for that.
There are two distinct ways of having a championship-caliber team in college football. You can do so the Alabama way or the Wisconsin way. And by that, I mean you are either a 'have' or a 'have-not' team. Very few programs have crossed that threshold in this century - in fact, you could argue that only Clemson has gone from a 'have-not' to a 'have', and even calling them a 'have-not' in the year 2000 was still a bit of a stretch.
In the Big 12, there are only two 'haves' so eight of the ten members have to do it the old-fashioned way. For the haves, it is easy - you recruit at a high level every year, have quality coaching and you churn out the results with an unending retooling. The have-nots, develop a roster over the course of two-three seasons of players who were less desired or overlooked in recruiting. This has left the revolving door of programs in the Big 12 taking turns so to speak.
Well, it might be Kansas State's turn. The program Chris Klieman is building is a culture similar to that of Bill Snyder, a bunch of JUCO and otherwise unnoticed kids who need development. Klieman has a championship pedigree dating back to his time at North Dakota State. He won four FCS national championships there before taking over in Manhattan. The Wildcats have been biding their time but they may finally have the team to put together a run. At the end of the day, great coaching can put you in position to win games, but the players are the ones who go out on the field and perform to make that happen. The Wildcats have some big guns now on their roster they have been waiting on.
Upgrade at Quarterback
Let's start at the most important position on the field; quarterback. Skylar Thompson did a nice job at KSU and should be commended, but Adrian Martinez is a glove fit for what the Wildcats want to do. The all-time yardage leader for Nebraska transferred to Kansas State and has the perfect set of skills. He can run the football with the best in the country and has improved steadily as a passer over the years. Kansas State would love to run every play if it was an option so he won't be asked to do too much in the passing game. Kansas State also has a much better offensive line than what Nebraska had. You add dynamic plays like this to the offense its dangerous:
Then if he has time he can make throws like this:
1st Round Pick at Left Tackle
Kansas State also has one of the top left tackles in college football in All-American candidate Cooper Beebe. The 6'4", 322-pound offensive lineman was named 1st team All-Big 12 last year, and for good reason. He is a load, who can make you move and can play guard in a pinch as well, which he did at times last year. Beebe has a bright NFL future that may result in a 1st round selection in April's draft. Beebe did not give up a single sack in 2021 playing well over 700 snaps at LT. In the Big 12, that's impressive because there are good pass rushers on every Big 12 roster. He is also very athletic as shown here, where he is able to pull from the left tackle spot and lead block for Skylar Thompson's QB keeper, beating the LB to the hole and eliminating his presence:
Game-Wrecking Edge Rusher
Another All America candidate is EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah. Felix had 50 tackles, 14 TFLs, and 11 sacks for the Wildcats in 2021 as a redshirt freshman. The 6'4 260-pound monster was a first-team All-Big 12 player and made Phil Steel's third team All-America list. He is an absolute freak that you just cannot block with one guy or he will blow your play up. Anudike-Uzomah has incredible speed and play strength, and plays with great pad leverage.
Against TCU he recorded four (was six) sacks and forced two fumbles. It was a career day for Felix, despite the Big 12 removing two sacks from his stat line.
Dynamic Player at Running Back
The final All-America candidate for this Kansas State squad is RB Duece Vaughn. This kid can ball, and has for going on 3 years now, terrorizes defenses reminding everyone of Darren Sproles. Duece Vaughn was a consensus All-American last season as the dual-threat RB had nearly 1900 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns. The 5'7" Vaughn is slippery and elusive, he has great body balance which makes him tough to go down on the first attempt. He is a machine out of the backfield as a pass-catcher and is a great runner with strong vision and speed. He can kill inside or bounce it to the outside. Once he is in open space he is gone. Even on third and long, as a defense, you have to account for his presence.
In Kansas State's wild 2020 comeback vs Oklahoma he let his presence be felt:
Lots of Returning Talent
Kansas State has tremendous talent at every important position on the field, and all of their projected starters have spent at least three off-seasons in college strength and conditioning programs. Aside from two redshirt sophomores, the entire roster is littered with upperclassmen. This is year four of the Chris Klieman show at Kansas State, and there is a great shot for it to be his best yet. He is returning a solid roster with a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and special teams. Do not sleep on the Wildcats in 2022 they have everything they need to be a serious contender in the Big 12 conference.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]