Becoming The “Hunted”

Becoming The “Hunted”

“The target’s on our back. There are expectations, but that’s why you came to Kansas State. To have high expectations. To be the team that people want to beat.”..Chris Klieman at Big 12 media day, July 13th, 2023.

It’s been a while since K-State football was the “hunted” in the Big 12 instead of the “hunter.” Other than a five or six-year stretch from 1997 to 2003, K-State has usually entered the football season as the underdog with a chip on its shoulder. Even during the heyday of K-State football, I’m not sure the Wildcats were ever picked to win the Big 12 in a preseason poll. Maybe in 1998, but it was usually Nebraska, Oklahoma, or Texas that got the “honor” of being the preseason favorite. Does Chris Klieman have the program in position to be a perennial favorite to win the league? Are things changing for K-State football? Are they going to be the “hunted” in the league instead of the “hunter?”

I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that K-State was picked by the media to finish second in the league in the preseason poll. Sure, the offensive line returns, starting quarterback Will Howard returns, and a couple of key pieces on defense return, but the Wildcats lost a lot of talent off of the 2022 team that won the Big 12 championship. Perhaps I’m conditioned as a K-State fan that a rebuilding year or two is in order after such a successful season. After all, as Chris Klieman said multiple times today, K-State is a “developmental” program, meaning that the program relies on developing players and winning with experienced players that have been in the program for four or five years. Having an older, more experienced team than the opposition is K-State’s advantage and what keeps them competitive in the league. I can’t argue with that philosophy, although it’s obvious that recruiting at a high level remains the lifeblood of any successful college football program.

Klieman believes that his K-State football program is in a position to “elevate” over what they accomplished last season. Big 12 media voters seem to agree with him, picking K-State to finish second in the Big 12 this season behind Texas. If that happens, it would put K-State in the Big 12 championship game for the second year in a row with an opportunity to repeat as champions. While I don’t put much stock into the preseason polls, I find it interesting that so many believe that K-State will be back in the same position they were last year. Can it happen? Sure. Will it? I have my doubts. If it does happen, does it mean that Klieman will have this program in position to compete for the Big 12 championship every year as he did at North Dakota State? Can he reload every year instead of having to rebuild?

This season may help us answer that question. In the past, every time K-State won the Big 12 or appeared in the Big 12 championship game, it was with a senior quarterback at the helm. Last year’s championship, with Will Howard quarterbacking the team to the title, is the exception. Having Howard back behind center, along with the entire offensive line returning, is the thing that gives me hope that a repeat is possible. Is it likely? I’m still skeptical of that until I see the team play a few games. At this point, I’ll go with “possible.”

In general, I liked what I heard from the head coach and players at Big 12 Media Day. They are embracing being picked as a favorite to win the league, and they all seem excited to kick off the season and defend their title. They are more optimistic than I am, as they should be. Let’s hope their confidence breeds success.

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